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Veteran slugger 'confident against anybody' at WBC

Feb. 28, 2023 - 09:34 By Yonhap
South Korean third baseman Choi Jeong takes a swing during batting practice for the World Baseball Classic at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona, on Monday. (Yonhap)

TUCSON -- When his South Korean team faces Australia to start the World Baseball Classic in Tokyo next week, third baseman Choi Jeong may see a familiar face on the mound -- someone whose bid at history Choi foiled nearly three years ago.

On May 5, 2020, Australian right-hander Warwick Saupold, then pitching for the Hanwha Eagles in the Korea Baseball Organization, was working on a perfect game against Choi's SK Wyverns.

Saupold was seven outs away from becoming the first KBO pitcher to toss a perfect game, when Choi stepped up to the plate. The slugger worked the count full before drawing a walk.

That was the second of Saupold's two seasons in the KBO. He's back pitching in his native Australia, and because of his knowledge of KBO hitters on the South Korean team, Saupold may get the starting nod in the WBC opener, seen as a must-win game by both teams if they are to reach the quarterfinals.

"I don't know if I'll face Saupold again, but I am confident against anybody, no matter who's on the mound," Choi said after wrapping up South Korea's training camp at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona, on Monday. "That first game is a crucial one, with a trip to the quarterfinals at stake. We're preparing for that game the best we can."

The walk that Choi drew off Saupold was one of just two free passes Choi had in 24 plate appearances against him. He only managed four hits against the Australian, though two of them were home runs and one was a double.

"I don't remember breaking up the perfect game," said Choi, second on the all-time KBO home run list with 429. "But I am trying to think back to moments when I had big hits against Saupold." (Yonhap)