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Veteran KBO catcher takes pride in speed

Yoo Kang-nam of the LG Twins (R) slides home safely ahead of Doosan Bears catcher Park Sei-hyok during the bottom of the fifth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Tuesday, in this photo provided by the Twins. (LG Twins)
Yoo Kang-nam of the LG Twins (R) slides home safely ahead of Doosan Bears catcher Park Sei-hyok during the bottom of the fifth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Tuesday, in this photo provided by the Twins. (LG Twins)

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of baseball catchers? It could be a lot of things, but speed is probably not one of them.

But Yoo Kang-nam, a veteran backstop for the LG Twins in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), claims he is that rare breed of catchers who can run. He doesn't want you to get fooled by his almost nonexistent stolen base total -- just seven in 917 career games in a career that began in 2011.

Yoo will gladly submit his baserunning heroics from Tuesday's game against the Doosan Bears as evidence for his underrated speed. Thanks in no small part to Yoo's hustle, the Twins came from behind for a 4-3 win at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the bottom fifth, Yoo came all the way home from second base when Hong Chang-ki dumped a single to left. There were two outs and Yoo took off on contact, but the ball wasn't hit that deep. Left fielder Jo Soo-haeng caught the ball on one hop but his long throw home forced catcher Park Sei-hyok a few feet behind the plate. Yoo slid home safely before Park could get to the plate and apply his tag.

And there was a bit of a twist to that play. Only moments earlier, Yoo had already sprinted home from second base, after Hong had sent the ball down the left field line. It went foul by just a few inches -- the call was confirmed in a quick video review -- and Yoo had to go back to second base.

And before Yoo could catch his breath, Hong hit that single on the very next pitch. Yoo had to restart his engine and turn on the jets.

With a more accurate throw, it would have been a bang-bang play at the plate. But Yoo didn't think so.

"If (third base) coach Kim Min-ho didn't feel I'd be safe on that hit, he wouldn't have given me the green light," Yoo said with a smile. "I was safe by a pretty good margin, too. I can run a little bit."

Keeping with his running theme, Yoo legged out a double in the seventh inning.

But the catcher said he ran the hardest in his first at-bat in the second inning when, ironically, he bounced into a double play. The 6-4-3 twin killing came with one out and bases loaded, and Yoo said he was trying to beat the throw to first and keep the rally going -- to no avail.

"I ran as fast as I could, but it just felt like my legs weren't moving," Yoo said. "The first base bag seemed so far away."

Between running the bases and calling pitches behind the dish in the tight seesaw game, Yoo had a hectic day at work. But the 29-year-old said winning is an antidote for fatigue.

"We lost three games in a row (over the weekend) and I was so exhausted after those games," Yoo said. "Today, I feel great because we just won. I am a bit tired but winning makes it easier to handle."

With Tuesday's victory, the Twins improved to 3-1 in their season series against the Bears, their co-tenants at Jamsil.

The Bears have had the upper hand on the Twins in every season since 2016. Most notably, in 2018, they were 15-1 against the Twins.

"As individuals, we all get conscious about playing Doosan, but as a team, we don't consider games against them to be any more important than others," Yoo said. "Otherwise, we'd be putting too much pressure on ourselves. When we meet them for a three-game series, we see them as three games out of a 144-game season." (Yonhap)

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