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Backup outfielder's breathtaking grab keeps club alive in postseason

All Headlines 08:57 October 25, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 25 (Yonhap) -- With his club's season hanging on the balance, LG Twins backup outfielder Ahn Ik-hun made the catch of his life Monday.

The Twins were trailing the NC Dinos two games to none in their second round in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason, when the teams entered extra innings tied at 1-1. In the top of the 11th, the Dinos had men at first and second with two outs, and Na Sung-bum, their slugging outfielder, at the plate.

Na sent a towering drive to deep center field, for what surely looked to be a tie-breaking double at least.

Ahn, who entered the game earlier in the 11th as a defensive replacement, was playing shallow, so he could go home with a throw on anything falling in front of him.

But he had a great jump and tracked the ball all the way to the warning track, a good 30 meters from where he once stood.

As he got near the fence, Ahn extended his right arm and caught the ball, just before bouncing off the wall.

Ahn even had the presence of mind to hoist his glove in triumph, with the ball firmly in his palm, for all to see -- in case any one of the 26,000 spectators at Jamsil Stadium missed it.

LG Twins' players celebrate their 2-1 walk-off victory over the NC Dinos in the Korea Baseball Organization postseason at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 24, 2016. (Yonhap)

Na stood still somewhere between first and second, and stared toward center field in complete disbelief. When he came to his senses, Na slammed down his helmet in frustration.

Lim Jung-woo, the LG reliever on the mound, was just as incredulous. He squatted down and grabbed his head with both hands, unable to believe his fortune. The right-hander had just been to hell and back in a matter of seconds, and he had his backup outfielder to thank for it.

The Twins made the most of their new life, scoring the game-winning run in the bottom of the 11th on a pinch-hit infield single by Yang Suk-hwan.

Yang was named the Player of the Game, but the Jamsil faithful chanted Ahn's name even more loudly.

And to hear Ahn tell his own story, he might have been the only one in the packed house who thought he could catch the ball.

"I was pretty sure I could go get it," Ahn said, beaming. "If I had a better jump, I could have made the catch even more easily."

Ahn isn't much of a hitter -- he batted .268 with zero home runs in 68 games this season -- but has developed a well-deserved reputation as a defensive specialist. During the regular season, manager Yang Sang-moon often used the 20-year-old as a late-inning defensive replacement, especially when the Twins were playing at the cavernous Jamsil.

After Monday's game, Yang said he had a hunch that Ahn's glove could come in handy at some point in extra innings.

"Ahn is the hero for us today," Yang said. "When I sent him out there, I had a feeling that we would see a batted ball that could determine the outcome of the game. I figured we'd have a chance to win if he could make a couple of plays."

Ahn hasn't had a plate appearance this postseason yet, having made just two games on defense. But he said he couldn't care less about his offensive numbers.

"Playing defense is what I am supposed to do," he said. "I'll catch everything that comes my way, like I did today."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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