"I was definitely more nervous," Ryu said through a translator.
Dodger Stadium, filled to capacity, temporarily became the unofficial capital of Ryu's homeland. Korean pop star Psy watched from a suite. Approximately 90 media credentials were issued to South Korean reporters.
Ryu responded by delivering one of the finest performances of his rookie season, limiting the National League's second-highest-scoring team to a run and two hits over seven innings in the Dodgers' 4-1 victory.
Ryu (9-3) struck out nine. His only walk was to Choo to start the game. Choo was hitless in two other at-bats against Ryu, including a sixth-inning strikeout.
Those who have watched Ryu since spring training weren't surprised.
"He seems to rise to the occasion all the time," Manager Don Mattingly said.
And this was unmistakably an occasion for Ryu.
"It seemed like he had a little extra," Mattingly said. "We saw him touch 95. He doesn't do that very often."
"He was just very serious today," catcher A.J. Ellis said of Ryu. "Usually, he's very quiet, but more so today."
The first-place Dodgers extended their lead over Arizona in the National League West to 11/2 games.
The offense was powered by Skip Schumaker, whose two-run home run off Bronson Arroyo broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning. A replacement in left field for fever-ridden Carl Crawford, Schumaker scored an insurance run in the seventh, when he doubled and Adrian Gonzalez singled him home.
While pitching in the Korean Baseball Organization, Ryu said he never thought of facing Choo. They'd played for their country in international tournaments, so, Ryu said, "I thought of him more as a teammate."
They had dinner together after the series opener Thursday, won by the Reds.
Ryu smiled. "The owner of the restaurant," he said.
Ryu and Choo took distinct paths to the majors. Ryu turned pro and pitched seven seasons in the KBO; Choo signed with the Seattle Mariners as a teenager.
Choo made his major league debut with Seattle in 2005. He was traded to Cleveland a year later, and to the Reds before this season.
Saturday's game marked the first time two South Korean players faced each other in the major leagues since Choo, then with the Indians, struck out against the New York Yankees' Chan Ho Park on July 29, 2010. That game was watched in approximately 18.5 million households in South Korea.
This game presumably drew a larger viewing audience because Ryu, 26, and Choo, 31, are both in the primes of their careers.
"I mean, it's a big deal," Ellis said. "It's one of his best friends and one of his idols. It was special to be a part of."
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