PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jung Ho Kang arrived in the United States last winter a mystery before providing a major jolt that helped get the Pittsburgh Pirates started on their run at a third straight playoff berth.
Now, they’ll try to reach the postseason without their supremely confident rookie shortstop.
Kang underwent surgery Thursday night to repair a broken left leg and torn knee ligament sustained on a takeout slide at second base by Chris Coghlan of the Chicago Cubs. The team said Kang is expected to be out six to eight months, meaning he could miss the start of the 2016 season.
The 28-year-old Kang went down hard when Coghlan slid into him while trying unsuccessfully to break up a double play in the first inning of Chicago’s 9-6 victory Thursday. Kang was helped off the field and taken to a hospital. An MRI revealed the extent of the damage.
Kang declined to place blame on Coghlan in a statement released through agent Alan Nero.
“It is unfortunate that what would be considered heads up baseball would cause such a serious injury,” Kang said. “That said, Coghlan was playing the game the way it should be played. I’m confident he meant me no harm. I appreciate everyone’s support.”
Chicago manager Joe Maddon called it a “good baseball play.” Coghlan, involved in a similar sequence that injured former Tampa Bay infielder Akinori Iwamura in 2009, expressed remorse.
“I hate that that happened,” Coghlan said. “I’d never try to hurt somebody. I sent him over a letter and told him I hoped he would be OK.”
The news made headlines in Kang’s home country. News1, a Korean news organization, described Coghlan’s slide as a “murderous tackle.”
Kang, the first position player to directly make the jump from the Korean Baseball Organization to the majors, hit .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games for Pittsburgh, which leads the Cubs by two games in the chase for the top NL wild card.
“Send our teammate Jung Ho Kang prayers,” Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen tweeted Thursday night. “Heal up Chingu(friend). We got u. Best believe that.”
Pittsburgh won the rights to sign Kang during the offseason and he agreed to a four-year, $11 million contract to provide in the infield. After a slow start, he quickly rediscovered the stroke that helped him become MVP of the KBO in 2014, when he mashed 40 homers.
“He was the baddest dude over there, by far,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said in June. “There was separation. He didn’t come over here and say, ‘I hope I’m going to be a bad dude over here.’ He came over here with the intent to play, to play well and work his way into whatever he is going to work his way into and make a difference on our team in this league.”
The Pirates will turn to shortstop Jordy Mercer — who ceded a portion of his playing time to Kang — as they attempt to catch the first-place Cardinals and hold off the Cubs in the NL Central.
Associated Press correspondent Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.