Son As-seop (35-NC Dinos) 먹튀검증 and Noh Jin-hyuk (34-Lotte Giants), who switched teams through free agency, met for the first time in Sajik. In both offense and defense, the two players were able to put a spell on the ‘Nakdong River Rival’ Chinjeong.
Lotte won the home game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League against NC 2-0 at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on March 23. Lotte, which had previously lost two straight, started the week with a win.
The three-game series was important for both teams. Lotte dropped a series to SSG Landers last weekend, taking one and two games. NC also remained on shaky ground with two losses in the three-game series against the Samsung Lions, leaving them one win shy of a five-game winning streak (20-19, 0.519 winning percentage).
Outside of their performances, Lotte and NC had a connection. They picked up each other’s free agents a year apart. After the 2021 season, NC signed Son As-seop, who had played 15 seasons with Lotte, to a four-year, 6.4 billion won deal. A year later, at the end of last year, Lotte picked up Noh Jin-hyuk, a founding member of NC, for up to 4 years and 5 billion won.
Son has been in great form this year after a disappointing 0.277 batting average last season. He’s batting .313 on the season, but he’s been hitting particularly well in May, with a .345 average before this game. Noh Jin-hyuk also has a mediocre batting average of .277, but his batting average has risen to .347 with runners on base.
Son As-seop, who had a mediocre 0.262 batting average in 16 games against Lotte last year, has underperformed again this year with a 0.167 average. Noh Jin-hyuk also went just 1-for-11 (.091) in a three-game series against Changwon in late April, but on April 21, he hit a two-run double in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game after falling behind 1-2.
On that day, Son As-seop was in the starting lineup as NC’s No. 1 hitter and left fielder, while Noh Jin-hyuk was Lotte’s No. 7 hitter and shortstop. Catcher Ahn Jung-yeol (28), who was acquired by NC as compensation for Noh, was also waiting in the dugout.
It was Son Ah-seop who stood out first. After hitting a grounder to second base in his first at-bat in the top of the first inning, he chased down a well-hit ball from No. 4 Jeon Jun-woo (37) and caught it in front of the walking track. It was a crucial catch to end the inning after the leadoff hitter walked.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, both players made outstanding plays side by side. One out later, Lotte had runners on second and third with back-to-back singles by Jeon Jun-woo and Ahn Chi-hong (33). Then, No. 6 Han Dong-hee (24) hit a big shot to the left field fence. It could have been a double, but Son was able to follow it to the front of the fence and make a leaping catch. Lotte was only able to get the third baseman home.
It was Noh Jin-hyuk who brought in the second baseman, Ahn Chi-hong, who took advantage of a cutter from NC starter Shin Min-hyuk (24) to hit a single that dropped in front of the right fielder. As it turned out, the score was huge. Lotte didn’t score a single run except in the fourth inning, and the difference between a one-run lead and a two-run lead is huge, so Noh’s single was crucial.
Noh finished the day 1-for-3 with a home run and an RBI, while Son went 1-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. Lotte won the game thanks to Noh’s batting performance, while NC was held scoreless by Son’s defense.