When he stepped onto the unfamiliar stage of Korea, he was a completely unknown pitcher. He had no major league experience at all. However, the four years he spent in Korea served as a valuable stepping stone for him to head to his dream stage of the major leagues. This player, whose major league debut was itself dramatic, has now emerged as a dominating World Series hero. Now the entire United States is paying attention to this player.
This is the story of Arizona Diamondbacks right-handed pitcher Merrill Kelly (35). Kelly joined the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 at the age of 21, but the only opportunities he was given were in the minor league. He showed excellent pitching in Triple A under Tampa Bay in 2014 with 9 wins, 4 losses, and an ERA of 2.76, but unfortunately had no chance of being called up to the major leagues.
After careful consideration, Kelly chose to go to Korea. Kelly, who has played for the SK Wyverns since 2015, pitched 181 innings that year, leaving with 11 wins, 10 losses, and an ERA of 4.13. The following year, 2016, he pitched a whopping 200⅓ innings, recording 9 wins, 8 losses, and an ERA of 3.68. Because his luck was not as good as his pitches, he was given the nickname ‘Kell Cry.’ Kelly’s performance continued. In 2017, Kelly pitched 190 innings and recorded 16 wins, 7 losses, and an ERA of 3.60, and started to follow his winning streak. In 2018, he pitched 158⅓ innings, recorded 12 wins, 7 losses, and an average ERA of 4.09, contributing greatly to SK winning the Korean Series that year. did.
In fact, if you look at Kelly’s ERA, you may think he is far from a special pitcher, but at the time, the KBO league was a time when hit-and-run pitchers were dominant. This can be explained just by looking at the fact that Kelly ranked 4th in ERA in 2016, 7th in 2017, and 7th in 2018.
As Kelly showed remarkable progress on the Korean stage, major league clubs also began to show interest, and he eventually received a 2+2 year major league contract worth up to $15 million (approximately 20.3 billion won) with Arizona, finally fulfilling his dream in 2019. Successfully made his major league debut. In fact, the contract guaranteed to him was only two years and $5.5 million (approximately 7.5 billion won), but Kelly pitched 183⅓ innings in 2019, recording 13 wins, 14 losses, and an ERA of 4.41, and went 3 wins, 2 in 31⅓ innings in 2020, which was a shortened season. Arizona had no choice but to activate the club option as the loss performance exceeded expectations, leaving an ERA of 2.59.
Kelly was on a roll. Kelly, who exceeded 200 innings (200⅓ innings) for the first time since his major league debut last year, recorded 13 wins, 8 losses, and an average ERA of 3.37. This year, he also pitched 177⅔ innings, leaving 12 wins, 8 losses, and an average ERA of 3.29, making him a top starting pitcher. established itself. The number of wins Kelly achieved during the four years he played in Korea was 48, and coincidentally, his current major league win total is the same at 48. Arizona already signed a two-year contract extension worth $18 million (about 24.4 billion won) with Kelly in April last year. The treatment has also changed that much. If this continues, it is very likely that Arizona will also exercise the club option for 2025.
Now Kelly is becoming a national star. Kelly pitched well against the Texas Rangers in Game 2 of the 2023 Major League World Series held at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on the 29th (Korean time) with 9 strikeouts in 7 innings, allowing no walks and 1 run, leading Arizona to a 9-1 win. led to a complete victory.
Kelly went down in Major League history as the fifth pitcher to record 9 or more strikeouts without walking while allowing 1 run in 7 innings in the World Series. Before Kelly, Don Newcomb in 1949 (Game 1 of the World Series), Roger Clemens in 2000 (Game 2 of the World Series), Cliff Lee in 2009 (Game 1 of the World Series), and Clayton Kershaw (Game 1 of the World Series) in 2017. there is.
Kelly is doing well in this year’s postseason alone with 3 wins, 1 loss, and an ERA of 2.25. There is some doubt as to whether he is the first player to play in a major league postseason game.
In fact, Kelly is not a player who walked the ‘flower path’ to reach his current glory. Life in Korea, which was relatively smooth, also had its ups and downs.굿모닝토토
On the 30th, the American magazine ‘The Athletic’ introduced Kelly’s story from his time playing in Korea. The year was 2016. Kelly had lunch with his wife, brother, and his agent at a Western restaurant in Incheon. However, Kelly made a bombshell announcement at this event, saying, “Life in Korea has reached its limit.” He then said, “Even if I sign a minor league contract, I want to return to the United States,” and he spoke as if he would leave Korea at any moment.
It wasn’t because I didn’t like Korea. Kelly said that even though his body is in Korea, he imagined playing in the major leagues every day. He was able to watch major league games without skipping a single day in the morning, Korean time. He meant that he would rather sign a minor league contract and try for the major league stage.
Agent Caron couldn’t help but be shocked by Kelly’s ‘bombshell declaration’. While Kelly went to the bathroom, Caron asked Kelly’s wife and brother, “Please don’t let Kelly go to America.” Charon was confident. There was confidence that if Kelly continued to play in Korea a little longer, he would be able to get a better contract than his minor league contract.
How would Kelly’s future have been different if Caron had not stopped her at that time? The current World Series hero may not have been born. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” Caron told The Athletic. “What sets Kelly apart from other guys is that she’s a smart person, and she worked hard in Korea until she got a major league contract.” “I did it,” he recalled.
How does she remember Kelly? “I could have easily become complacent, but that wasn’t an option for me,” said Kelly. “That wasn’t enough,” and that even while playing in Korea, he was full of desire to challenge the Major League stage.
Kelly may have made her major league debut later than most, but she reminded her that age is just a number. Kelly, a major leaguer who debuted in his 30s, has proven his worth for five years and has now become a star player who delivers the best pitching on the biggest stage, the World Series. “I always said Kelly was the most underrated pitcher in baseball,” said Arizona ace Jack Gallen, who played alongside Kelly. He was confident Kelly would one day see the light of day.
Heading to Korea in her 20s was a choice that changed Kelly’s destiny. “To be honest with you, I was a lot more scared of going to Korea at age 26 than pitching in a major league game or even pitching in a World Series,” Kelly confessed after Game 2 of her World Series. Now it’s a story I can tell with a smile.
Thanks to Kelly’s good pitching, Arizona succeeded in winning Game 2 of the World Series and balancing the series with 1 win and 1 loss. Game 3 of the World Series between Arizona and Texas will be held at Chase Field, Arizona’s home stadium, on the 31st. Arizona is once again challenging for supremacy 22 years after winning the 2001 World Series. Attention is being paid to whether Texas can overcome its aspirations to win its first World Series.