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'Hoppers' Canha cranks walk-off single09/12/2011 11:56 PM ET
By Andrew Pentis / Special to MLB.com
Bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the ninth in a Championship Series, and Greensboro's Mark Canha wasn't completely prepared, at least not right away.
"I didn't think I wasn't going to bat," admitted Canha, the sixth batter of the inning. "Regardless of the high-pressure situation -- I felt the pressure -- I told myself to have fun."
The good times lasted one pitch. Canha delivered a two-run walk-off single as the Marlins' Class A Advanced affiliate took Game 1 from the Savannah Sand Gnats, 5-4, in the South Atlantic League Finals.
"We've been doing that a lot of lately," said Canha. "It's unbelievable. We're in a dream world right now."
The best-of-5 set resumes Tuesday with Game 2 in Greensboro. Game 3 will be played Wednesday in Savannah.
"We're just going to go into [Tuesday] and have the attitude that it's 0-0 still," Canha said.
The Northern Division-champion Grasshoppers, who swept Hickory in its first-round series, are playing in their first postseason since 1999. The Southern Division-champion Sand Gnats are seeking their first league crown since 1996. Both clubs finished the regular season with 79-60 records.
Batting fifth and playing first base, Canha appeared unlikely to participate in the final inning. Sand Gnats closer Hamilton Bennett (0-1) walked the bases loaded, but not before manager Andy Haines was ejected for arguing that Marcell Ozuna's would-be two-run homer down the left-field line sailed inside the foul pole. Third base umpire Aaron Reynolds didn't budge.
"We were surprised, angry," Canha said. "We thought we won the game right then."
Ozuna ended up reaching base on balls. Two batters later and the first one to face Ronny Morla, Canha struck an opposite-field walk-off single into right field.
"My hitting coach told me [Morla] likes to throw his slider," said Canha, 22, who also singled in the eighth. "So I went up there looking for the slider and I got one on the first pitch."
Before Canha's heroics, Blake Forsythe appeared to be the game's hero. Forsythe took starter Kyle Winters deep in the third inning, and with the score tied at 3 in the eighth, broke a 3-3 tie with a second big blow off of reliever Grant Dayton (1-0).
The 22-year-old catcher has five extra-base hits in 11 postseason at-bats. Monday marked his first multi-homer game as a pro.
Sand Gnats starter Angel Cuan allowed three runs -- all on Ozuna's two-run homer in the first and Ryan Fisher's solo shot in the fifth -- and six total hits over 4 1/3 innings.
Relievers Chase Huchingson, Ryan Fraser and Bennett allowed one hit over the next four innings.
Winters couldn't escape the fifth. He gave up three runs on nine hits, including a solo shot to Alonzo Harris.