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Mookie Betts and Corey Seager may be the biggest stars of the postseason, but the darling of October has been Ji-Man Choi, the baby-faced Tampa Bay Rays first baseman whose hamstring-defying acrobatics around the bag, effervescent smile và ultra-cool first name have sầu endeared hyên ổn to fans across the country.
“Ji-Man Choi is the man,” Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow said. “What you see on TV is what you get. There’s a lot of stuff he does that is iconic & funny.”
Some of the stuff Choi does seem to lớn push the limits of kinesiology.
Choi is a stout 6 foot 1 & 260 pounds, but he has a Gumby-lượt thích ability to twist and contort his toàn thân to make plays lượt thích he did in Game 3 on Friday night, when he leaped high and down the line for errant throws from infielders and applied tags on Seager in the fourth inning and Betts in the eighth for outs.
But his most astonishing play that night — & one he has made countless times this month và gained the most acclayên for — was when he did the splits while stretching for shortstop Willy Adames’ one-hop throw on Betts’ game-opening grounder.
Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi forces out Dodgers’ Mookie Betts out during trò chơi 3 of the World Series.
“Doing the splits is fun, but it’s very painful at the same time,” said Choi, speaking through an interpreter. “A lot of people think I’m a gymnast instead of a baseball player, but that’s a credit lớn all the hard work I’ve sầu done throughout the offseason and here during practice.”
Choi, 29, is the rare player from South Korea who bypassed the Korean Baseball Organization, signing with the Seattle Mariners at age 19 in 2009.
He did not play well enough in six injury-plagued minor league seasons khổng lồ warrant a big league promotion và signed with Baltimore as a minor league miễn phí agent after the 2015 season. .
But the Orioles did not add Choi to lớn their 40-man roster, & 2½ weeks later, the Angels selected Choi, then 25, in the Rule 5 draft. The Angels thought Choi would provide a left-handed bat capable of producing an on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the .750 range, while playing first base, left field & designated hitter.
Choi hit only .170 with a .611 OPS, five sầu homers và 12 RBIs in 54 games in năm 2016 and was at least a partial victyên ổn of bad luchồng with a .173 batting average on balls in play, which turned out khổng lồ be a career low. But his quirky personality & sense of humor began khổng lồ emerge in Anahelặng.
The Rays credited the baseball gods for their victory over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series, but those otherworldly forces deserted them in Game 5.
Choi went hitless in three at-bats with two strikeouts in a three-game series at Milwaukee in early May năm 2016, during which he claimed he was visited by a ghost in his bed at the supposedly haunted Pfister Hotel. Asked by MLB.com how he slept his first night in Milwaukee, Choi said, “Oh, not good, not good.”
After Choi hit his first big-league homer, against the Texas Rangers in a July 18 game, the Angels gave sầu the rookie the traditional silent treatment when Choi returned to the dugout.
Choi played right along with the prank, high-fiving and low-fiving imaginary teammates as he walked the entire length of the dugout before his teammates mobbed hlặng.
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On the field, Choi was not about to supplant Albert Pujols at first base, & he was not deemed athletic enough to be an everyday outfielder, so the Angels allowed hlặng to walk as a không tính phí agent.
Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi has become a người favorite in Tampage authority Bay and one of the most popular players in his clubhouse.
Choi signed with the Thủ đô New York Yankees in 2017 but played only six games in the big leagues that season. A 2018 stint with Milwaukee didn’t go much better — Choi hit .233 with two homers & five RBIs in 12 games for the Brewers before being traded lớn Tampage authority Bay that June for utility infielder Brad Miller & cash.
Choi showed encouraging signs in the second half of 2018, batting .269 with an .877 OPS, eight homers and 27 RBIs in 49 games for the Rays.
That winter, Choi started practicing Pilates & put a greater emphasis on strength & conditioning & flexibility. He had a breakout 2019, batting .261 with an .822 OPS, 19 homers and 63 RBIs in 127 games.
“The reason I started focusing on my flexibility is I got injured a lot in the minor leagues,” Choi said. “I think flexibility is the key part in any sports. So I try khổng lồ be more flexible, hoping it will help me sustain full, healthy seasons.”
After 31 long years, the Dodgers are on the verge of finally putting seemingly countless October failures behind them in exchange for World Series glory.
Dodgers beat Rays khổng lồ take 3-2 series lead
Photos: Dodgers vs. Rays in World Series Game 5
Choi hit .230 with a .741 OPS, three homers, 16 RBIs, 36 strikeouts & 20 walks in 42 games in a platoon role this season, & he’s had a solid postseason, batting .263 (10 for 38) with an .864 OPS, two homers, one double and four RBIs entering Game 6 against the Dodgers on Tuesday night.
Choi did not start in Games 4 & 5, but he drew a key pinch-hit walk off reliever Blake Treinen ahead of Brandon Lowe’s three-run homer in the sixth inning of Tampage authority Bay’s 8-7 trò chơi 4 win.
He is expected to lớn start against Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin Tuesday night và right-hander Walker Buehler if the series extends khổng lồ trò chơi 7 Wednesday.
“Ji-Man, give sầu hyên a lot of credit, he’s been through a lot in his career,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s been in different organizations, was probably being taught multiple things about hitting or defense or whatever. By the time we acquired hyên ổn, I think he learned that the best version of himself is lớn be himself.”
Fans of the Rays’ first baseman Ji-Man Choi hold signs during the sixth inning of trò chơi 4 of the World Series at Globe Life Field.
That version of Choi has become a tín đồ favorite in Tampage authority Bay và one of the most popular players in his clubhouse.
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“He’s always smiling, always cracking jokes, having a great time, nhảy đầm during batting practice,” Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe said. “I think the fans really love and embrace guys who look lượt thích they’re having fun và go all-out during the game. I think he does that with the best of them.”
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