Aussie pitcher stars, Korea league starts

Rob Forsaith
Australian Warwick Saupold has starred for Hanwha Eagles as Korea's top baseball league commenced

Warwick Saupold has delivered a match-winning performance on the opening day of South Korea's national baseball league.

He became Australia's first professional athlete to return to full competition amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season, originally scheduled to start on March 28, launched on Tuesday with a clash between Saupold's Hanwha Eagles and SK Wyverns in Incheon.

Saupold excelled, becoming the first foreign pitcher to throw a shutout on KBO opening day as the Eagles prevailed 3-0.

The dominant West Australian was on track for a no-hitter until the seventh inning and proceeded to wrap up victory in two hours and six minutes, making it the shortest opening-day match in KBO history.

Saupold is in his second season with Hanwha, having pitched for MLB franchise Detroit Tigers in 2016-18 plus Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League.

Fans were not allowed into stadiums at any of Tuesday's five KBO games.

SK Wyverns attempted to manufacture some atmosphere by covering seats with rows of plastic banners, all featuring the faces of fans.

Umpires wore protective masks during matches, while players and officials are being screened for fevers when they arrive at ballparks.

Among the other restrictions put in place by the KBO is a ban on chewing tobacco to prevent spitting.

South Korea has been able to flatten its coronavirus curve after a worrying spike in February, using extensive testing and effective tracking, and its national soccer league will start on Friday.

Sports-starved American fans will have a chance to watch KBO action in coming weeks after a hastily-signed broadcast deal with ESPN.