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Lee Jung-hoo of the San Francisco Giants hits a single against the San Diego Padres during a Major League Baseball regular-season game at Petco Park in San Diego, March 28. AP-Yonhap

Lee Jung-hoo, the rookie center fielder for the San Francisco Giants, picked up his first career hit and RBI in his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut on the road, as the 2024 season opened across the United States.

Leading off for the Giants, Lee batted 1-for-3 with an RBI against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park in San Diego on Thursday (local time). The 25-year-old center fielder became the 27th Korean to play in MLB.

The new season began with the two-game Seoul Series between the Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, and Thursday was the first day of the season for the rest of MLB.

The Giants-Padres game also featured an all-Korean duel between Lee and the Padres shortstop Kim Ha-seong, a pair of former teammates on the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Kim, batting fifth, went 1-for-3 with a walk.

Kim was the first to leave for the big leagues, as he signed with the Padres before the 2021 season. Lee followed him in December last year, when he agreed to a six-year contract worth US$113 million.

Lee, the 2022 KBO regular-season MVP and one of the Korean league’s top hitters, has been hyped up as the Giants’ new leadoff man and center fielder, someone who could offer much-needed 토토 stability at the top of the lineup and in the outfield.

And Lee had an adventurous first day.

He struck out in his first time up against the Padres starter Yu Darvish and then lined out to first base in the third inning.

Then with the Giants up 1-0 with two outs in the top of the fifth, Lee lined a single to center field for his first MLB hit. Lee swung on a high sinker, and the ball dropped just in front of center fielder Jackson Merrill.

However, Lee was picked off by Darvish and caught stealing second base.

Lee earned his first big league RBI in the top of the seventh. With the score tied at 2-2 and men on second and third, Lee hit a flyball to center that cashed in the lead runner, Michael Conforto, to put the Giants up 3-2. But Nick Ahmed, who took off for third base on the play, got caught in a rundown and tagged out to end the rally.

What could have been a game-winning RBI for Lee wasn’t meant to be, as the Padres responded with a four-spot in the bottom of the inning to grab a 6-3 lead.

Kim Ha-Seong of the San Diego Padres hits a single in the fifth inning during an Opening Day game against the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park in San Diego, California, March 28. AFP-Yonhap

Kim stepped in with two outs and a man on third in that inning but struck out looking.

Kim did have a base hit himself, with a single to Lee in center field in the fifth. It was Kim’s first hit of the season, after he had gone 0-for-7 in two games in Seoul. Kim scored later in that inning on a Tyler Wade groundout.

Kim flied out in the second and drew an intentional walk in the sixth. Kim stole second base after that free pass to put himself in scoring position, but Jose Azocar struck out.

The 2023 National League (NL) Gold Glove winner at the utility position, Kim had a clean day at shortstop and flashed his strong arm in getting Mike Yastrzemski on a soft chopper for the first out in the top of the ninth.

The Padres won 6-4 in the first game of the four-game series between the NL West rivals.

Lee and Kim are the only two Koreans to make the Opening Day rosters.

Veteran first baseman Choi Ji-man will begin the season in the minor league for the New York Mets. Utility player Park Hoy-jun had a strong camp for the Oakland Athletics, but the rebuilding club still sent him to the minors as they chose to give younger players a look in the early going.

For the Pittsburgh 토토 Pirates, utility player Bae Ji-hwan began the season on the injured list while recovering from a left hip flexor injury. 

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