“Proud to be a ‘back door shooter’ on the most popular team after Kim Sa-yul-Son Seung-rak”
Lotte’s ninth inning is solid. That’s because of the imposing presence of Kim Won-joong, 30, a long-haired closer who rushes to the mound in save situations.
On March 23, he recorded his 10th save of the season against Sajik NC, marking his fourth consecutive season with double-digit saves. “It’s a meaningful record in that I played steadily,” said Kim Won-joong, who met with the team at Sasik Stadium after achieving the record
He is the first pitcher in the club’s history to finish with 10 saves in four consecutive seasons. Before Kim, Lotte did not have a reliable closer with such a long history. Kim has been protecting Lotte’s back door for four seasons, starting with 25 saves in 2020, his first season as a closer. He earned 35 saves in 2021, surpassing Kim Sa-ryul’s club record of 34 in 2012. He also surpassed Son Seung-rak’s three consecutive seasons of double-digit saves, including 37 in 2017 when he joined Lotte as a free agent.
“It’s not easy to be a backup in the most popular team in the KBO,” Kim said, “but I’m proud of the fact that I overcame difficult situations and finished well.” He added, “It’s an honor to be listed next to the great seniors,” but he also said, “I think this needs to continue, so I think my record will increase with each passing year.” He also talked about his ambitions as Lotte’s closer.
In fact, the start of this season was not easy. He threw a lot of pitches early on while participating in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March. There was also a lot of psychological fatigue from the national team’s elimination from the tournament. He gave up three runs in one inning against KT on April 9, and three runs in 0.1 innings against LG Electronics three days later. “I tried to reset my brain by going around and eating delicious food, and I think I also paid a lot of attention to recovering my body,” Kim explained. Kim Won-joong has pitched scoreless in all but one of his 15 games since joining the team from Samsung Electronics on April 15.
With Kim’s steady pitching, Lotte has been on the rise. After finishing April in sole possession of first place, the team is still in contention in May. Thanks to a strong back door, they have won all 22 games in which they were ahead by seven runs as of May 25. “Even if it’s hard, when I take the mound (with the team in the lead), it’s my job to protect it,” said Kim Won-joong, “and I will take good care of my body so that I can pitch a lot whenever I get the chance.”
Lotte’s goal this season is to advance to the Fall League. Lotte’s last postseason appearance came in 2017. Kim Won-joong, who pitched in two games in the semifinals, is one of the few Lotte pitchers who has experience in fall baseball. “My fastball gets 2-3 kilometers faster in the fall,” he said, “I want to play fall baseball in a place with a lot of spectators. The fans have high expectations from now on, and I will try to live up to them.”