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Doosan catcher plays through injury, passes credit on to teammates

All Headlines 09:43 October 23, 2015

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 23 (Yonhap) -- It wasn't nearly as dramatic as Willis Reed's appearance in Game 7 of the NBA Finals for the New York Knicks, but Doosan Bears catcher Yang Eui-ji battled a painful injury of his own to help his club stave off elimination in South Korean postseason baseball.

After sitting out the previous game with a broken right big toe, Yang was back behind the plate for Game 4 against the NC Dinos in the second round playoff series in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) and helped the Bears to a 7-0 victory that forced a deciding Game 5.

Without the aid of a pain-relieving injection, Yang went 2-for-4 with a run scored at the dish, batting in his usual fifth spot in the lineup. He made an even stronger impact behind the plate, calling an aggressive game with right-hander Dustin Nippert on the mound.

Pitching on three days' rest after firing a complete game shutout on Sunday, Nippert tossed seven more scoreless innings. He gave up just two singles and struck out six.

The American right-hander rarely shook off Yang as he started pumping strikes from the get-go. Nippert threw 86 pitches, 58 of them strikes, and fired 47 fastballs.

Despite his solid contribution on both ends, Yang said his teammates deserved more accolades.

"I really didn't do much; Nippert pitched a great game, and the guys scored a bunch of runs to make my life easy," Yang said. "I knew Nippert was fatigued, but he was willing to sacrifice himself for the team. I was grateful for his efforts, and I tried harder not to show that I was hurting."

Doosan manager Kim Tae-hyung was more effusive about his backstop.

"The fact that he was willing to play through his injury set a great example for the rest of the team," Kim said. "I bet he wants to go back out there in Game 5, and he should be good to go."

One of the KBO's best two-way catchers, Yang enjoyed his most productive offensive season in 2015. He appeared in a career-high 132 games and set new personal bests with a .326/.405/.523 line, 93 RBIs, 70 runs scored and 27 doubles. He matched his career-high with 20 home runs.

In Game 2 of the series against the Bears, Yang fouled a pitch off his right foot and suffered a slight fracture in his big toe. The Bears lost that game 2-1. And without Yang in the starting lineup, they were blown out 16-2 in Game 3.

The Bears survived another injury scare in Game 4, when Choi Jae-hoon, the only catcher on the team's playoff roster starting in place of Yang, took an errant pitch off his ankle and went down in pain.

It forced their designated hitter Hong Sung-heon, a former All-Star catcher who last caught in a KBO game in 2008, to warm up in the bullpen in emergency.

Choi did stay in the game. Hong later revealed that while he was getting loose, Yang sidled up to him and offered he'd be good to go if needed, broken toe or not.

"Unless there was a major issue with my foot, I didn't think twice about playing," Yang said. "In Game 5, I will concentrate on working with our pitchers. I think my job isn't so much to produce hits at the plate but to make sure we don't allow too many hits."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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