After returning home from the Asian Games (AG) in Hangzhou with a gold medal, Noh Si-hwan (23, Korea) can’t take a break. After returning home via Incheon International Airport on Aug. 8, the 23-year-old traveled down to Changwon and will start his KBO campaign on Sept. 9 against the Changwon NC. With Choi Jung (36-SSG) in second place in home runs trailing by two, the top spot is not secure until the end.

Noh has been away since being called up to the AG baseball team after the Daejeon Kiwoom game on March 22. Up until this point, Noh had a relatively comfortable five-game lead over second-place Choi Jung (26) with 31 home runs, but the 16-day hiatus was not a long one, and Choi Jung is a veteran who is very good at driving in runs.

In an interview after the AG convened, Noh said, “The home run king is decided by the heavens. I don’t know how many more you’ll hit while I’m gone, but I hope not many,” he laughed, adding, “When I get back from the national team, I’ll play right away. I won’t give up until the end,” showing his determination to become the No. 1 home run hitter.

True to Noh’s wishes, Choi didn’t add another home run for a while. He went 13 days without a home run after his AG debut. During this time, Choi complained of back pain and missed six games, appearing in only four. It looked like Noh’s lead would be solidified, but he broke his silence by hitting his 27th and 28th home runs of the season off Lee Tae-yang against Hanwha in Munhwa on April 6, his first game back from injury.

Then, against the Changwon NC on the 8th, he hit a solo shot to left center off Ha Jun-young in the last at-bat of the 9th inning. His 29th home run of the season. With three home runs in three games, he moved within two of Roh Si-hwan. With eight days left in the season, Choi (.5489) has narrowly overtaken Noh (.5485) for the top spot in on-base percentage.

Both SSG and Hanwha have only five games left in the season. Noh Si-hwan is still favored, but Choi Jung’s history of dominance suggests a two-game lead. Choi has won the home run title three times in 2016 (40), 2017 (46), and 2021 (35), all of which came in late-season surges.

In 2016, he hit a league-high 16 home runs after August to pass Eric Thames (then NC), who had nine. He finished the season just shy of 40 homers. In 2017, he consolidated his lead with eight after September. He took the top spot with a nine-homer lead over then-No. 2 Willin Rosario (Hanwha), who hit just four after September. Then in 2021, Na Sung-beom (NC) was trailing by one with 30 home runs and Choi Jung 29 through September, but in October, Choi Jung hit six and Na Sung-beom added three to overtake him by two.

With Choi gaining the home run lead, Noh’s next five games against the Changwon NC in September and Lotte in Daejeon on October 14-16 are crucial. He didn’t hit a home run in the six games of the AG, but his batting average of 4-for-38 (7-for-16) with six RBIs and eight walks 토토사이트 is a good indication. He also had two doubles and a sacrifice fly.

If Noh holds off the best of the chase and retains the home run lead, he’ll surpass Jang Jong-hoon (28-35-41) from 1990-1992, his predecessor in the Binggrae, and 2008.