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Backup catcher emerges as unlikely postseason hero

All Headlines 23:12 October 21, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct. 21 (Yonhap) -- In a year that has been so improbable for the NC Dinos in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), the impossible happened Friday.

The Dinos backup catcher Yong Deuk-han knocked in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth, as they stunned the LG Twins 3-2 to take Game 1 of the second round playoff series at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province.

After the Dinos wasted a handful of scoring chances in the first eight innings, it took a 13-year veteran, who batted just .212 in 88 games in the regular season, to play the hero.

The Dinos were down 2-0 entering the bottom ninth, and with LG closer Lim Jung-woo, who finished second in the regular season with 28 saves, on the mound, the prospects of a comeback looked dim.

Park Min-woo quickly began the dramatic rally with a single to start the ninth. He reached second on a wild pitch and a follow-up single put men at the corners.

Yong Deuk-han of the NC Dinos celebrates his game-winning hit against the LG Twins in their Korea Baseball Organization postseason game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Korea, on Oct. 21, 2016. (Yonhap)

Ji Seok-hun came off the bench for an RBI single, chasing Lim from the game. And Lee Ho-jun followed suit with a pinch-hit single of his own, off the new pitcher, Kim Ji-yong.

The score was now tied at 2-2. Kim walked Son Si-heon to load the bases to face Yong, who'd entered the game in the top ninth after starting catcher, Kim Tae-gun, was lifted for a pinch hitter in the eighth.

Yong actually missed a squeeze attempt at a 1-0 count, fouling off a high pitch. He then swung on the next pitch and chopped it down the third base line for the game-winning single.

And Yong couldn't have picked a better time to enjoy his first walk-off hit of his 13-year career.

"I only got that opportunity because my teammates did such a great job in front of me," Yong said "I thought the ball had gone foul at first. It's great to win in the ninth inning and give our club the first postseason walk-off victory."

Yong is a career .226 hitter who has spent the better part of his career as a backup. He has never played more than 91 games in any season. Yet he has developed a mini-legacy as a clutch playoff performer.

Playing for the Doosan Bears in 2010, he was 6-for-9 with four RBIs to be named the MVP of the first round series. Then with the Lotte Giants in 2012, he hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning against the Bears.

"I know I've had my moments in postseason, but I wish I'd been a better player in the regular season, too," Yong said with a smile. "I feel bad for the club if I only get it done in postseason games."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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