Pirates' Kang Jung-Ho Blasts Walk-off Grand Slam in Spring Training Game
Jay Yim, March 22, 2019, 9:49 a.m.
All Kang Jung-ho does is hit home runs: well, almost.
The Pittsburgh Pirates' South Korean third baseman smacked a walk-off grand slam in a spring training game versus the Baltimore Orioles in Bradenton, Florida, on Thursday (local time), lifting the Bucs to a 7-5 victory at LECOM Park.
It was Kang's sixth home run of spring training, tying him for most in the majors with Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees.
Six of Kang's seven hits have been home runs so far. That lone non-homer hit came in the second inning of Thursday's game, when Kang doubled to left field.
Kang, who has already won the starting third base job, is batting .194 (7-for-36) in 13 spring games but has 10 RBIs with a .722 slugging percentage.
In Thursday's game, the teams were tied at 3-3 through eight, and under spring training rules, a runner was placed at second base to start the top of the ninth for the Orioles. They capitalized on it by taking a 5-3 lead, but it only set the stage for Kang's heroics in the bottom half of that inning.
The Pirates also began the ninth with a man at second base. Josh Bell drew a walk and Ryan Haug was hit by a pitch to load the bases against D.J. Snelten.
Kang then ended the game with one swing of the bat, sending the ball over the right center field wall for his first slam of spring.
Kang, 31, has been given a new lease on his baseball life by the Pirates after missing all but three games over the past two seasons due to his legal problems in South Korea.
He was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in Seoul in December 2016 and received a suspended jail term the following year. Kang was unable to secure his U.S. work permit for 2017 and didn't play a game that year.
The infielder got his visa in April 2018 and returned to the big leagues for the final regular season series last September.
And following the end of the season, the Pirates declined Kang's US$5.5 million option after his four-year, $11 million contract expired and instead signed him to a new one-year deal in free agency, reportedly worth $3 million, plus $2.5 million in performance bonuses.
Kang, a former All-Star shortstop in South Korea, finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 after batting .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games. In 2016, he had 21 homers and 62 RBIs, with a .255 batting average in 103 games.
In three games last year, Kang has two singles in six at-bats.