PITTSBURGH -- Jung Ho Kang, whose production and brushfire popularity has fueled the Pirates' playoff drive, has been lost for the season with an injury to his left knee and fractured leg.
Kang underwent surgery Thursday night at Allegheny General Hospital to repair a tibial plateau fracture with a lateral meniscal repair, sustained when he was upended at second base by Chris Coghlan while turning a double play in the first inning of a 9-6 loss to the Cubs at PNC Park.
The severity of the injury became known about seven hours after Kang departed with what the club announced as "an injury to his left knee."
The infielder, who was making his first start at shortstop since Sept. 2, issued a statement through his agent, Alan Nero, absolving Coghlan of any wrongdoing.
"It is unfortunate that what would be considered heads-up baseball would cause such a serious injury," the statement read. "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."
Coghlan took a hard slide into Kang's left leg while trying to break up a double play at second base, immediately sending Kang to the ground in pain. Putting little to no pressure on his left leg, Kang eventually hobbled off the field with the assistance of interpreter H.K. Kim and assistant athletic trainer Ben Potenziano.
Kang has been one of the Pirates' most valuable players this season, hitting .287/.355/.461 while playing third base and shortstop following a smooth transition from the Korea Baseball Organization to the Major Leagues.
"We're taught to go in hard; we're taught to go in to get the guy off their feet," second baseman Neil Walker said. "Unfortunately, this led to a situation where we have one of our hottest hitters out for probably an extended period of time."
With two on and no outs in the first, the Pirates tried to turn a double play on Coghlan's grounder to Walker. Kang dropped Walker's throw, allowing Coghlan to reach safely and load the bases.
Three pitches later, Kang successfully turned the double play on Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo's grounder, but his left leg took the full force of Coghlan's takeout slide as he threw to first base.
"I'm completely within the rules," Coghlan said. "It just stinks because he didn't have time to jump over me. The collision looks bad because there's no take."
Coghlan said he checked in on Kang, sent a letter to the Pirates' clubhouse after the game and hated to see Kang injured. But he didn't feel the slide was out of line, nor did the Pirates accuse Coghlan of a dirty play.
"It's not like he went way out one way or the other," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a hard slide."
Added Cubs manager Joe Maddon: "That's a good baseball play -- it's been going on for the last 100 years. There was no intent by anybody."
Shortstop Jordy Mercer, who suffered a sprained MCL on a similar play in July and missed a little more than a month, replaced Kang at shortstop.
"It was very unfortunate; he's a very big part of this team," Mercer said. "I know firsthand because I've been through something like that."
While losing Kang will affect their lineup and defensive versatility, the Pirates believe they have the left-side infield depth to withstand such an injury.
"Our bench is definitely built for something like this," Mercer said. "Obviously, we don't want anything like this to happen, but in case something did happen, we've got guys that can fill in right away."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.