Odd couple: Ryu, Uribe become best of friends
Unlikely bond forms across language barrier between rookie pitcher, veteran infielder
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis doesn't understand it.
Manager Don Mattingly is puzzled, too.
Members of Korean media who have followed pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu since he was a teenager are tickled, but they are not completely surprised the rookie's best friend on the team is Juan Uribe, a player many think he wouldn't have much in common with.
"It's like the Odd Couple, him and Uribe get along so well," Mattingly said. "It doesn't make any sense to me."
Ryu, 26, is from South Korea and knows only a few phrases in English. The Dominican-born Uribe, 34, is one of the most popular players in the league and primarily speaks Spanish and knows English, but he doesn't know a word of Korean.
"I think he understands more Spanish than English, so I talk to him in Spanish," Uribe said with a laugh. "Sometimes, it's just a simple sign or gesture. He's a great kid, very smart teammate."
Baseball has its own language, and fun-loving Ryu and jovial Uribe speak it perfectly. There's little doubt the Dodgers would be in the position they are in without the pair. Ryu will take the mound opposite Atlanta's Julio Teheran at 5 p.m. PT on TBS on Sunday in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, and Uribe will be behind him at third base.
"My favorite part of the game is when [Ryu] runs over and covers first base and Juan Uribe will go to the mound to give him a little breather to kind of rest," Ellis said. "[You] see them out there talking with each other. I mean, what can these two be possibly talking about, because they don't know any languages between them? I always wonder what they're talking about."
When Ryu gets too excited on the mound, it is Uribe who walks over from his spot at third base to calm him down. When Uribe hits a home run or makes a nice play on defense, Ryu is among the first to congratulate him, sometimes with a slap on the head or by jumping on Uribe's back.
"I think our common ground is we have a similar sense of humor," Ryu said. "He doesn't take things too seriously, so I can joke around with him. And he has such a good personality that it was easy for me to become such close friends with him."
Sometimes, the friends dance with each other or with the nearest photographer in the dugout. Sometimes, they bark at each other in between pitches when Uribe sees that his friend is breathing too hard or can't stop wiping the sweat off his brow.
"What's my name," Uribe tells him in English.
"Ooh-ribe, Ooh-ribe," the pitcher responds.
The smiles and laughs usually succeed in calming Ryu down.
"I like to get along with all of my teammates on every team that I have been on, and it's not any different here with the Dodgers and Ryu," Uribe said. "In this game, you have to relax and have fun. You are not going to play better if you are nervous or too anxious. That's something I help Ryu with out there, and I think that's part of the reason I have had such a long career. I have fun in this game."
Both Ryu and Uribe have a long history of success. Ryu was a seven-time all-star in the Korea Baseball Organization before signing a six-year, $36 million deal with the Dodgers in December. The pitcher led his team to a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and he starred for the second-place Korean team at the World Baseball Classic in '08.
"I can't really say how big of a game [Sunday] is compared to my other games," Ryu said. "Every big game is a big game. But obviously, considering my Major League status, it's a very important game for me."
Ryu posted a 14-8 record with a 3.00 ERA in 30 regular season starts this year, his first in the United States.
As for Uribe, he was the starting shortstop for the 2005 World Series champion Chicago White Sox, and he played a key role for the Giants in their run to a World Series title in 2010. The veteran has played in 32 postseason games in his 13-year career and has played a large role for the Dodgers this season.
"Obviously at third base, he's been unbelievable," Mattingly said. "Offensively he's been a force. I think he [hit] .290 or something against righties -- a little different against the lefties. He's a guy that's given us a lot of key hits. He's walked a little bit this year, and he's kind of solidified third base for us."
But Uribe's not comfortable talking about the regular season, focusing on the games still to be played, beginning with Game 3 of the NLDS.
"I do think I have helped the team this year, but until the last out of the final game is over, I don't think it's right to talk about the kind of season I have had because it's not over," Uribe said. "I have two rings, but I want three and that's what I'm thinking about. It's just like when you get two hits, you want three."
It's safe to expect the laughs between Ryu and Uribe will also come in bunches Sunday. They hope the wins do, too.