Saturday, November 03, 2001

For every hero, there's a Kim




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        PHOENIX — Part of baseball's timeless appeal is that it is not governed by a clock. You cannot let the air out of the ball. You cannot play a prevent defense. You cannot take a knee as a tactical retreat.

        You have to get the last out. You have to finish what you start. The hitter need not hurry to meet some arbitrary deadline. Eventually, the pitcher must deliver the ball.

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Byung-Hyun Kim agonizes as Brosius rounds the bases
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        For Byung-Hyun Kim, baseball's timelessness is his torment. Twice in two nights, the Arizona relief pitcher worked to within one out of a World Series save, only to suffer bewildering setbacks. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius, the last hope of the New York Yankees in successive games, struck eerily similar two-out, two-run, game-tying homers in the bottom of the ninth inning. Both times, the Yankees went on to win in extra innings.

        Thus it is the Diamondbacks who face elimination this evening in the best-of-seven series, and it is Kim who must carry on in the face of cruel fate. The submarine-style Korean is 22 years old, far too young to be bearing the burden of epic failure, yet helpless to hide from it.

Exultation vs. anguish

        Baseball is a zero-sum game. For every act of heroism, there is corresponding heartbreak. For every Bobby Thomson, there must be a Ralph Branca. For every Joe Carter, there is a Mitch Williams.

        Brosius' exhilaration Thursday night could be equaled in scale only by the extent of Kim's anguish. He had thrown 62 pitches Wednesday night, yielding both Martinez's game-tying homer and Derek Jeter's walk-off blast in the 10th inning, yet here he was again in the cannon's mouth.

        Arizona manager Bob Brenly, eager to rebuild Kim's confidence and short on attractive alternatives, called on his kid closer to finish the 2-0 shutout Miguel Batista had started.

        To choose someone else would have shown a disturbing lack of faith. Kim saved 19 games in 23 attempts during the regular season and held opposing hitters to a .173 batting average, lowest among National League relievers. Though Randy Johnson had offered to pitch an inning in relief, the role clearly called for Kim.

        “He's our closer,” Brenly explained. “I talked to him at length this (Thursday) afternoon, called down to bullpen coach Glen Sherlock and asked how he was warming up, and he said his stuff was electric. He is our closer. He wanted the ball in that situation. Made a bad pitch — a slider that hung over the inside of the plate.”

        As Brosius rounded the bases, his right arm raised in triumph, Kim squatted on the mound, his head bowed, the bill of his cap shielding his crestfallen face. First baseman Mark Grace came over, held the young pitcher's head in his hands, and sought to reassure him. Brenly summoned a fresh arm and mercifully sent Kim toward the showers. The Yankees would win it in the 12th inning, on an Alfonso Soriano single against Albie Lopez.

Can he rebound?

        “Mentally and physically, I felt fine,” Kim said later. “Right now, I just feel sorry for my teammates.”

        Back home for the balance of the series, the Diamondbacks may well recover from these devastating defeats. Conceivably, Kim could be called upon again.

        Asked if he could be comfortable asking Kim to close this weekend, Brenly replied: “Oh, absolutely.”

        Time will tell.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

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