Kwang Hyun Kim had waited for this night ever since he had left Korea to sign a two-year deal with the Cardinals before the 2020 season began. That was the season with no fans in the stands.
On Friday, the lefthander made his first Busch Stadium appearance with somebody sitting in the seats, including 2011 World Series hero David Freese. It wasn’t the 40,000 plus you would expect for a weekend series opener with the Cincinnati Reds. But it was some 32% of capacity at 13,196 and Kim surely must have enjoyed all the moments, not the least of which was his first professional hit as he beat out a dribbler toward third on a 1-2 pitch to open the third inning.
This act sent the Cardinals’ dugout into an uproar but Kim’s mission was to continue the outstanding run of starting pitching the most recent time through the rotation, which he did in a 5-4 Cardinals win, holding the Reds to one run in 5 2/3 innings, walking none.
Striking out eight in the first five innings, including the new villain in town, Nicholas Castellanos, Kim blanked the Reds for those five frames and his hit seemed to galvanize a Cardinals lineup which had been held to two runs or none in three of the club’s previous four tilts.
A new-look order featured Dylan Carlson second, Paul Goldschmidt third and Nolan Arenado fourth
After Kim’s single in the third (he was forced by Tommy Edman), Carlson blooped a single to center and former No. 2 hitter Goldschmidt, hitting with two men on for one of the few times this season, doubled in two runs.
Arenado, hitting cleanup instead of third, singled in Goldschmidt and Yadier Molina, who had thrived at No. 4, did OK at No. 5, too, doubling in Arenado for a fourth run in the inning after homering off starter Sonny Gray an inning before.
Molina had lifted an 0-1 Gray sinker an even 400 feet for his fifth home run. Molina was playing here before his mother and his uncles for the first time in two years but he came out of the game after the fifth inning with right ankle soreness apparently suffered while striking out in the fifth. But not before his double had given him 1,000 career hits at Busch Stadium.
Kim spent the entire 2020 campaign — the world’s longest spring training and the shortest regular season — without his wife and two small children. They remain in Korea until they can be vaccinated for the coronavirus and join “KK,” as his Cardinals teammates call Kim.
Manager Mike Shildt said before the game, “You talk about the world being turned upside down ... and then to come to a completely foreign country ... but what I’ve learned from the guy is that he’s tremendously resilient and very positive. He’s a really strong competitor and just genuinely a good human being.
“We could use more ‘KKs,’ said Shildt.
That, of course, goes for on the field, as well as off. Kim, who had a no-decision in his first start this season after his spring training was delayed by a sore back, is 4-0 in his two big-league seasons.
Three of those wins have come against the Reds who still haven’t figured Kim out. In 16 2/3 career innings against them, he has given up only one run — a sixth-inning, 421-foot homer by Castellanos — and 11 hits.
Castellanos’ 1,000th career hit and seventh homer of the season drew a predictable chorus of boos from the Busch faithful, remembering Castellanos’ taunting of Cardinals pitcher Jake Woodford, which precipitated something of a fracas three weeks ago and saddled the Reds’ slugger with a two-game suspension.
Ryan Helsley fanned Nick Senzel for the final out of the sixth and got two outs in a scoreless seventh as Helsley posted his sixth scoreless outing in his past seven. With a well-rested bullpen after a day off and the strong showings by the starters, Shildt went to lefthander Genesis Cabrera with two out and a runner at first in the seventh.
Cabrera also struck out the first hitter he faced to end the seventh and got one out in the eighth, also allowing a single off his right foot, before giving way to righthander Giovanny Gallegos.
Gallegos became the third Cardinals reliever to strike out the first hitter he faced when he fanned Eugenio Suarez. He tacked on a strikeout of Joey Votto to finish that inning and give the Cardinals’ staff 12 strikeouts with no walks at that point.
Jordan Hicks walked the leadoff man in the ninth and Jonathan India tripled on a ball that could have been caught in right-center field for the Reds' second run. Another walked forced Shildt to call for righthander Alex Reyes, who got ready quickly but issued the third walk of the inning, to pinch hitter Tyler Naquin, to fill the bases, and then walked Jesse Winker to force in a run and make t 5-3.
Reyes fanned Castellanos but wild pitched a run home on strike three (Castellanos couldn't run because there was just one out). Reyes then caught Suarez looking at strike three as the Reds stranded the tying and go-ahead runs.
It was Reyes' fourth save in four tries.
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