After returning to his hometown team after a 10-year absence, Im Chang-min (38, Kiwoom Heroes) has made a significant mark on KBO League history beyond his own.
In the bottom of the ninth inning with Kiwoom leading 4-3 in the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League regular-season game against SSG Landers at SSG Landers Field in Incheon on April 4, Lim pitched one inning of scoreless baseball with no strikeouts and no walks to preserve his team’s victory.
It was his fourth save of the season and 100th career save. It’s been 15 years since Kim was drafted by the Hyundai Unicorns with the 11th pick in the second round of the 2008 Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) Draft after graduating from Gwangju Daesung Elementary, Gwangju Dongseong Middle, Gwangju Dongseong High and Yonsei University, and making his first-team debut with the Heroes in 2009.
The journey hasn’t been easy. Lim had a chance to reach 100 saves earlier. He entered the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with Kiwoom leading 2-1, but a combination of bad pitches and heavy hitting by the SSG bats resulted in a blown save. The save opportunity two days later was just as difficult, as the SSG bats came to bat with just one run on the board. To make matters worse, Kiwoom had lost all eight of their games against SSG this season, so the psychological pressure was on. Lim Chang-min got some help from left fielder Kim Jun-wan in getting the first batter, Choi Ji-hoon, to ground out. But from then on, he didn’t let the ball leave the outfield, getting Choi Joo-hwan and Choi Jung to fly out to end the game with a triple play.
For Kiwoom, it was more than just a regular season win. Last year, Kiwoom lost two games to SSG in the Korean Series before dropping two straight to finish as runners-up with a 2-4 series record. In the aftermath of that, this year, even when they made it close in the head-to-heads, the outcome was always in SSG’s favor. Five of their eight losses have come by one point. In the regular season alone, the team has lost nine straight games against SSG since September 30th of last year.
If the team had lost that game, it would have been a 10-game losing streak and Kiwoom would have repeated the club’s black history from 15 years ago. The nine-game losing streak against SSG (including its predecessor SK) is the second-longest, with the longest being a 10-game losing streak from May 20, 2008 to September 27, 2008. Coincidentally, the Heroes were re-founded in the same year as that black history, and Lim Chang-min is the last remaining founding member of the Heroes. A founding member who returned after 10 years prevented a repeat of the black history.
Just this March, it was hard to imagine such a dramatic scene unfolding. Lim had been released by the NC Dinos in 2021 and the Doosan Bears in 2022, and for a while, he was invincible. But his family extended a hand, and he gladly took it. It was an unfamiliar team, with more familiar coaches, but the juniors were the first to reach out. When we caught up with him before the first game against Hanwha, he told us how he’s adjusting to the new team.
“Everyone makes me feel comfortable,” he said. Even the juniors express their opinions and ask questions like the MZ generation.” “Personally, I felt that there is a lot to learn from the team itself. The way they run the team with data and in many ways, there are things that could be sensational if shared with other teams. It’s helped me a lot and I think it’s a good team for (younger players) to learn and grow.”
But this year, the team has struggled, just as it did 15 years ago when he first joined. They’ve fallen to the bottom of the table and have 메이저놀이터 had ups and downs, winning big and losing big. But Lim was convinced by the team’s mood that they could rebound.
“I’ve seen this team at the bottom of the table, and I’ve seen them in worse situations than they are now. But right now, even though we’re at the bottom of the standings, the cohesion between the players and the team atmosphere is really good. Usually, when you’re this far down (in the standings), some people will go off the field or say something to demoralize the team, but here, we stick together, and we have a very strong sense of ‘we’re a team that can climb back up.
“I think that’s why I was successful. “I think it’s refreshing to have this kind of atmosphere with younger players,” he said. “I think what I’ve realized here is that just because you’re older (or more experienced) doesn’t mean you’re in a position to set an example or teach. I also have a lot to learn from the younger guys. I have a lot to learn from the juniors as well.” He added, “I feel like we’re becoming one by talking about that.
After quickly integrating into the team, Lim began to show his best form. In mid-May, he began closing games and is now 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA and four saves in 17 appearances.
After becoming the 20th player in KBO history to reach 100 saves, Lim became the oldest player to reach 100 saves at 37 years, 9 months, and 10 days. The previous record was held by Song Jin-woo at 37 years, 7 months, and 9 days. His 100 saves send a resounding message to the KBO. He didn’t give up when everyone thought he couldn’t make it through two releases, and eventually stepped up as a closer for a team once again to make a meaningful mark.
We asked him what 100 saves would mean to him as he is one away from the milestone. “It means a lot to me because I came back this year and everything is new to me (at the Heroes): my first win, my first hold, my first save. In fact, I took what I learned here and blossomed in other teams, so I feel fortunate to be able to come back and give back to Heroes,” he said, first giving meaning to his record in Heroes. “Actually, there are people who have been supporting me through a long period of bad times. If I had given up early, it wouldn’t have been worth it for them. For me, 100 saves would be more of a record to repay them for their support than personal glory,” he smiled.
Three days later, all the people who supported Lim received the best gift of all.