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KBO on pace to see least productive home run king since '06

11:35 August 14, 2019

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- With a new ball in play clearly favoring pitchers this year, the top South Korean league may see a home run leader with the fewest dingers in more than a decade.

Through Tuesday's action, Jamie Romak of the SK Wyverns was leading the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in home runs with 23 in 108 games. Romak's teammate Choi Jeong has 22, joined by two Kiwoom Heroes sluggers, Park Byung-ho and Jerry Sands.

At this point last year, Romak was leading the way with 36 home runs. Kim Jae-hwan of the Doosan Bears ended up taking the home run title with 44, one ahead of Romak and Park and Mel Rojas Jr. of the KT Wiz.

In this file photo from Aug. 1, 2019, Jamie Romak of the SK Wyverns hits a solo home run against the Kia Tigers in the bottom of the seventh inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at SK Happy Dream Park in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

In all, a record five hitters launched 40 or more dingers in 2018 and 10 sluggers had at least 30.

For this season, the KBO introduced a heavier and larger official ball with less bounce off the bat to curb offensive explosions and achieve more balance between pitching and hitting. And no hitter is on pace to reach 40 homers this year and getting to 30 will be a challenge too.

With 33 games remaining, Romak may get to 30 right on the number at his current pace. Park, a four-time home run king who can be streaky, has 22 homers in just 90 games, a pace that could see him push for 30 over the Heroes' final 32 games. Park has missed 22 games this year with wrist, back and knee injuries.

Since the KBO went to the current 144-game schedule in 2015, every home run champion has hit at least 40 home runs. The last time the KBO had a home run leader with fewer than 30 was in 2006, when Lee Dae-ho of the Lotte Giants had 26 while playing in 122 of 126 games.

Park has thrown himself into the race with four home runs in nine games so far in August, but he said before Tuesday's game that his focus remained on helping the team win.

"I just want to make up for my struggles from the first half," said Park, who still had 17 home runs before the All-Star break despite his assorted injuries. "I'll try to do my part as the cleanup hitter and help us win as many games as we can."

A year ago at this point in the season, all 10 teams had at least 100 home runs. This year, no one has reached the century mark, with the Samsung Lions and the NC Dinos tied at the top with 99 each. Teams have combined for 784 long balls, compared with 1,302 a year ago.

Park Byung-ho of the Kiwoom Heroes watches his two-run home run against the Doosan Bears in the bottom of the seventh inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Aug. 11, 2019. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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