Moon Sang-cheol, who came from ‘Hell and Heaven,’ became ‘Hero in Game 1’

KT Wiz, led by manager Lee Kang-cheol, pounded out seven hits in the first inning of Game 1 of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League against the LG Twins on Sunday at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul to win 3-2. The importance of Game 1 in the Korean Series cannot be overemphasized, even without looking at the statistic that the team that wins Game 1 has won the title 29 times in the 39 previous Korean Series. What is clear is that KT won Game 1, giving them a huge advantage in the series.

They got a quality start from Ko Young-pyo, who pitched six innings of seven-hit ball with two walks, three strikeouts, two runs and one earned run, while Son Dong-hyun pitched two scoreless innings and Park Young-hyun closed out the ninth for his first career save. At the plate, Jang Sung-woo was the only player to record a multi-hit game, and after struggling in his first three at-bats with a walk and two strikeouts, he emerged as the Wizards’ hero in Game 1 with a grand slam in his fourth at-bat. Moon Sang-chul, who hit the game-winning double in Game 1 레모나토토 도메인.

Moon Sang-chul, who has been recognized as a third base prospect since his days at Bae Myung-go, began his professional career at Korea University and was selected by KT with the 11th overall pick in the second round of the 2014 rookie draft. Upon entering the professional ranks, Moon became known as “KT’s Na Sung-bum” after hitting nine home runs in his first 18 games in the 2014 Futures League. The nickname was a nod to the NC Dinos’ Na Sung-beom, who had become the team’s signature hitter, and the hope was that Moon would become KT’s signature player.

However, due to injuries, Moon finished the 2014 Futures League season with a disappointing .272 batting average with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs, and to make matters worse, KT signed the late Andy Marte to play third base, Moon’s primary position, ahead of his promotion to the first team. In the end, Moon struggled in his first professional season, batting just .163 with two home runs and six RBIs in 51 games. Few baseball fans are left to call him “KT’s Nasung-bum,” as he failed to live up to expectations.

In 2016, Moon made fans excited again by hitting four home runs in an exhibition game, but after the season started, he disappointed with a .200 batting average with one home run and seven RBIs in 48 games. After failing to impress baseball fans in his first three years in the pros, Moon joined the Commerce Baseball Organization after the 2016 season, and it took him just one year to etch his name into the history books of the Futures League.

In 2017, Moon hit .339 with 36 home runs, 101 RBIs and 82 runs scored in 91 games, easily breaking the all-time Futures League record for most home runs in a season held by Park Byung-ho (KT) and Choi Joo-hwan (SSG Landers, 24). Not surprisingly, Moon was also the first player in Futures League history to record 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. In 2018, Moon’s season was cut short after he underwent surgery for an ankle ligament injury, but he was able to reclaim the title of “KT’s top prospect” through his stellar performance in the mercantile sector.

However, when he returned from the military, KT was a much different team than when he enlisted. Hwang Jae-gyun, a free agent signing, was playing third base, Moon’s pre-enlistment position, and a monster rookie named Kang Baek-ho was anchoring the center field lineup. Moon battled with Yoon Seok-min and Oh Tae-gon (SSG) for the starting job between first base and designated hitter, but he once again disappointed KT fans by batting just .200 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 33 games in his first season.

After becoming KT’s “oldest prospect,” Moon seemed to slowly establish himself in the first team, hitting .260 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs in 74 games in 2020, KT’s first fall baseball season. However, in 2021, the year KT won its first Korean Series title, Moon suffered a fracture in the back of his hand and underwent surgery. This left him out of the Korean Series roster, and he was unable to share in the joy of the team’s first championship since its inception.

Moon spent most of his time in the second team last season, playing just 28 games in the first team, even when the team’s top hitter, Kang Baek-ho, was limited to 62 games due to injury. Of course, he also suffered a side injury midway through the season, but with only 17 career home runs in his first nine years as a professional, his value to the team was bound to decline. As a result, Moon Sang-cheol, a highly touted slugging prospect, was relegated to the role of “right-handed pinch-hitter” and became a senior player in his 10th year as a professional.

This year, KT’s star Kang Baek-ho played only 71 games, while Moon Sang-chul played 112 games, the most since his professional debut, switching between first base, designated hitter, and right-handed pinch-hitter. His numbers were the best of his career, batting .260 with nine home runs, 46 RBIs and 30 runs scored. After such a solid season, Moon served as KT’s primary designated hitter in the fall league in place of Kang Baek-ho and made his mark in the playoffs, hitting two home runs in the bottom of the order.

In his first Korean Series appearance 10 years after making his professional debut on July 7, Moon bunted with runners on first and second in the second inning and struck out helplessly in the fifth and seventh innings. In the ninth inning, with runners on second and first, Moon Sang-chul hit a timely double to the top of the left field fence to become the hero of the game. Of course, there was a mistake by LG in the replay, but even without the error, it was enough for the fast platoon to reach home.

While it’s clear that KT had the upper hand in Game 1, there have been many instances where teams have come back to win after losing Game 1, so it’s hard to get carried away with a Game 1 victory. However, there is no doubt that KT’s Game 1 win changed the tide of the Korean Series from LG’s festive atmosphere as they attempted to win their first title in 29 years, and at the center of it all was Moon Sang-cheol, a 10-year pro who became the “Wizards’ Hero” in Game 1 after going through hell and back in his first Korean Series.

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