In the opener of a three-game series matching the Appalachian League West Division’s top two teams, the Cardinals sent 18 hitters to the plate while batting 35 minutes during a 12-run first and cruised to a 16-7 victory at Cardinal Park.
The first inning would’ve sufficed as a respectable day’s work for many of the first-place Cardinals (11-5) hitters.
Leadoff batter Casey Turgeon was 2-for-2 with two runs and two RBIs in the first. Blake Drake was walked, hit by a pitch and scored two runs in the first. Casey Grayson singled, walked, scored two runs and drove in two others in the first.
The Cards’ marathon frame featured seven hits, four walks, two hit batsmen, two Twins errors and two pitching changes.
“It’s a game, but the game’s supposed to be fun,” said Elizabethton manager Ray Smith, whose Twins fell to 10-7 on the season. “And that wasn’t very much fun — your team getting your brains bashed in in the first inning.”
Elizabethton starter Derrick Penilla (0-1) pitched one-third inning. He allowed nine runs (six earned) on six hits and two walks. Reliever Sam Clay also lasted one-third inning (Clay and Penilla each struck out Oscar Mercado), and Clay was lifted after a forgettable outing that included hitting two batters, two bases-loaded walks and a line-drive RBI single by Jose Godoy.
Godoy’s single was hit hard to the opposite field. The majority of the Cardinals’ 17 hits were hit to center field or opposite fields.
“I’ve never seen that, batting around two times in the first, 18 hitters come up to the plate with a solid approach,” Johnson City manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “They didn’t try to do too much. ... They stayed in the middle because he was trying to hit his fastballs away and guys stayed on the ball in the middle of the field.”
The Cardinals raised their team average to .299. Johnson City left fielder Cole Lankford was 4-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs. He was also hit by a pitch.
Turgeon, a left-handed batting second baseman, went 4-for-6 and raised his average to .404. He had three line-drive singles and was robbed of an extra-base hit on a difficult catch by Dutch Deol against the left-field wall.
“Turgeon manages the strike zone well,” Rodriguez said. “He sits and looks for a pitch. Usually, he won’t chase. He’s gonna be swinging at strikes.”
Casey Grayson and Godoy each went 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, and Chris Rivera was 2-for-4 with four runs and a walk. Godoy and Grayson are now batting .405 and .404, respectively.
“There’s two and a half acres out here, and good hitters use the field from line to line,” Smith said. “They don’t get panicky and they put good swings on it. They barreled up a lot of balls and they put some balanced, aggressive swings on it. And when we get behind and we give them some cookies, they don’t miss ’em.”
Cardinals starter Matt Pearce (1-1) pitched five shutout innings for the victory. The 6-foot-3 right-hander allowed three hits and one walk while striking out five. The walk came to the first batter he faced in the second inning after a 35-minute break, not that Rodriguez was worried.
“It was a long time, but Pearce — he’s solid as rocks,” Rodriguez said. “You watch his presence on the mound. He just gets the ball, you know, ‘I’m coming. Come get me.’ He doesn’t get too excited. He has a good presence about himself on the mound.”
Pearce got help from right fielder Blake Drake, who made a crowd-pleasing diving catch near the right-field line after getting a good jump on Deol’s fly ball to save at least one run and retire the side in the second.
The Twins’ Max Murphy was 2-for-5 with a solo home run to right field in the ninth and a line-drive double off the left-field wall in the sixth.
“I’m happy that he squared some balls up,” Smith said, “but we’d really like to see him do that when the game is tied or close.”
Tyler Kuresa was 3-for-4 with three doubles and three RBIs and catcher Jorge Fernandez was 3-for-5 with an RBI, helping the Twins make the outcome somewhat more respectable.
“When you get down by a dozen runs, you know, in the first inning it kind of takes a lot of wind out of your sails,” Smith said. “Thankfully, it only counts as one loss. ... You’re gonna be on the delivering end of these games sometimes and you’re gonna be on the receiving end of these games sometimes. So hopefully we can return the favor one of these days.”
Game two of the series is scheduled for tonight at 7.