Change-up master Lee Jae-hak (33), the pitcher with the most wins (81 wins) for the NC Dinos and a founding contributor. 도메인

After transferring from Doosan to NC through the second draft held in 2011, he laid the foundation for the pitching staff. Since 2013, he has been the homegrown ace, earning double-digit wins for four consecutive years.

But when the team reached the top, Lee Jae-hak was not there. When NC won the combined championship in the 2020 regular season and Korean Series, Lee Jae-hak was a bridesmaid. He performed poorly in 19 games in 2020 with 5 wins, 6 losses, and an ERA of 6.55, and ultimately did not make the Korean Series entry. At the moment of winning the first Korean Series in 9 years since the team was founded, Jaehak Lee was not present at the moment when then-captain Yang Eui-ji (currently Doosan) gave the execution sword ceremony.

From NC’s perspective, it was an unavoidable choice at the time. It was ironic and painful that Lee Jae-hak, who decorated several pages in the club’s history, was not at the best moment in the club’s history. Lee Jae-hak could not help but be heartbroken. That’s why he had no choice but to make his return to the fall baseball stage even more special and special. 

This year, Jaehak Lee left a record of 5 wins, 5 losses, and an average ERA of 4.54 (34 earned runs in 67⅓ innings) in 15 games (13 starts). He recorded five quality starts. On June 22nd, in the game against LG in Changwon, he suffered a metatarsal fracture after being hit in the left foot by a batted ball, and was only able to return after about two months of rehabilitation.

And in the postseason, he has now given up his title as a local ace and has become a leader who does not shy away from difficult tasks, regardless of whether he is a starter or a bullpen player. In Game 1 of the wild card game against Doosan, he pitched ⅔ innings, allowing 1 hit, 1 strikeout, and no runs. He pitched in 2 of the 3 semi-playoff games against SSG, recording 1 win, 1 hold, and an earned run average of 4.91 (2 earned runs in 3⅔ innings). 

Ace Eric Peddy was unable to pitch in the wild card game and semi-playoffs. The NC starting team was especially inferior to SSG. Although Lee Jae-hak was not included in the starting lineup, he played a middle role and played a significant role in the 3-game winning streak in the semi-playoffs. He served as a link to the sure-to-win team members Kim Young-gyu and Ryu Jin-wook. 

However, Lee Jae-hak’s fall baseball season, which he had been pitching for a long time, could have ended like that. Jaehak Lee gave his best in the third game of the semi-playoffs on the 25th, allowing 1 hit, 4 walks, and 1 run in 2⅔ innings. 

He went down as starter Tanner gave up 5 runs in 2 innings. He took over the baton in the third inning with no outs on first base with a narrow lead of 7-5. He caught the first batter, Park Seong-han, with a fly ball to third base, but allowed consecutive walks to Kim Seong-hyun and Oh Tae-gon, causing a crisis with the bases loaded with one out. A situation where the atmosphere of the game could change again. However, Lee Jae-hak maintained the lead by eliminating Choi Ji-hoon with a double play at shortstop.

Although he was hit by a timely double from Hanyu Island in the 4th inning with 2 outs and runners on first base and allowed 1 run, he ended the 4th inning without allowing any additional runs. And in the 5th inning, with 1 out, Kim Seong-hyun was walked again. And Oh Tae-gon’s at-bat. Jaehak Lee faced a dizzying situation. Oh Tae-gon’s line drive hit straight back to Lee Jae-hak and hit his right hand. 

Lee Jae-hak, who was hit on the back of his hand by a ball, froze and was unable to follow up quickly. However, Jaehak Lee barely noticed the ball that landed right in front of him and threw with all his might to first base. What could have been an infield hit with 1 out and 1st and 2nd base, turned into 2 outs and 1st base. Afterwards, Jaehak Lee headed straight to the hospital with the support of his trainer. Kim Young-gyu, who came up later, ended the inning, and Lee Jae-hak’s one out that he saved with fighting spirit came as a great achievement. 

In the end, Jaehak Lee became the winning pitcher with a 7-6 win. Jaehak Lee’s first win in 9 postseason games. After the game, Jaehak Lee enjoyed the joy in the dugout with his hands raised. Although the pain wasn’t gone yet, he had a smile on his face.

“I really wanted to get out of that inning,” he said of his post-injury situation, describing a situation in which he threw without even holding the ball properly. Due to the severe pain in the back of his hand, Jaehak Lee was unable to use his index and middle fingers to throw the ball. While explaining the movement to reporters, he explained that he held the ball with his ring and small fingers and threw it.

He said, “Actually, it hurt so much. It was so bad that he couldn’t move his hands. However, (Seo) Hocheol next to me made a loud call. So, I threw it with the thought, ‘This must be called out,’ and the throw copied it.” The situations of 1st and 2nd bases with 1 out and 2nd bases with 2 outs are clearly different, so the one out that Jaehak Lee achieved with his fighting spirit was precious.

Fortunately, the results of the examination were bruised. He is fortunate to have received confirmation that there is no problem with his bones, but it remains to be seen whether he will appear in the playoff series against KT. However, Lee Jae-hak would like to wash away the regret and resentment of being eliminated from the entry three years ago. I don’t want the fall of NC’s living history, the homegrown ace with the most wins, to end like this. 

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