BALTIMORE – Of all the developments he pictured about his debut in major league baseball, Byung Ho Park never expected this one:
“It was surprising — I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. I felt pretty comfortable out there from the [start],” the South Korean rookie said through an interpreter after collecting a hit, scoring a run and being hit by a pitch in his first official game in America, a 3-2 Twins loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. “Just being in the [batter’s] box, I saw the ball coming off [the pitchers’] hand pretty well. I was seeing the ball a lot better than I thought I would. I don’t know, I felt pretty comfortable.”
That’s good news for the Twins, who, despite an encouraging spring, still didn’t know what to expect from their $25 million offseason investment. Park is a two-time MVP in the Korean Baseball Organization, but this is a step up a level or two.
“It was a good first day for him, I thought,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
The first at-bat wasn’t so memorable, consisting of five pitches, the last of them a slider from Baltimore righthander Chris Tillman clocked at 87 miles per hour that caught the outside corner for a called strike three. But Park was simply the fifth consecutive Twins batter to strike out against Tillman, so no shame in that.
When he came up in the fifth inning for his next at-bat, against reliever Tyler Wilson following a 70-minute rain delay, Park’s calm paid off. He took a strike, laid off a ball, then attacked a 90-mph fastball, lining it into short center field for his first major league hit.
He was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning, and went to third base on Eduardo Escobar’s double. Then he made what seemed like a critical play, tagging up on a long, foul fly ball that Baltimore rookie left fielder Joey Rickard reached into the stands to catch. Park was off in an instant, and scored the game’s tying run without a play at the plate.
The Orioles believed Park had left too soon, and appealed, but umpire Mike Muchlinski ruled he had not, and manager Buck Showalter chose not to ask for a replay.
“I wasn’t concerned about them reviewing the situation, because I was positive that I took off after they caught it,” Park said. “I wasn’t worried at all.”
But the day wasn’t all good, Park said. He was upset with himself for not getting on base leading off the top of the ninth inning against Orioles closer Zach Britton.
“I’ll remember today’s game, getting my first hit in my first MLB game, but I’ll also remember that last at-bat. I faced the closer and [grounded] out,” he said. “I won’t forget that.”
Still, Park ended the day with a souvenir — the ball he hit for a single. “I’ll keep it well,” he said.