It wasn’t the seventh-inning stretch, but a stretch in the seventh inning that doomed the Johnson City Cardinals on Saturday night at Cardinal Park.
The Elizabethton Twins belted out five singles and took advantage of a costly fielding error during that stretch to score four runs and take an 8-4 victory over the Cardinals.
“We try to talk to these guys about making every at-bat, a tough at-bat,” Elizabethton manager Ray Smith said. “It doesn’t matter if the score is 10-1, 10-10 or whatever, you never give away at-bats. We got a couple of guys on there with two outs and we got 4-5 hits. We had some tough at-bats in that one inning, stringing together some two-out hits.”
The Twins remain the hottest team in the Appalachian League with their sixth straight win. They have a league-best 14-5 record and hold a 2 1/2-game lead over Greeneville in the West Division standings.
Johnson City (9-10) fell five games off the pace.
The Cards had eight hits in the contest, but struggled at the plate overall with 14 strikeouts against Elizabethton’s pitching staff. The staff included starter Angel Mata (2-0) striking out six over five innings to pick up the win. Brett Lee struck out five in three innings of relief before closer Zach Jones held on with bases loaded to end the contest.
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol didn’t like the way his batters fell behind in the count so often.
“It was tough. We had a lot of time to put the ball in play, but took a lot of good pitches for strikes,” Marmol said. “We felt like we were hitting a lot with two strikes, and that always makes it tough.”
Jeremy Schaffer led the way for the Cardinals offense. He had a solo home run in the first inning, and later added doubles in the fifth and seventh inning to end 3-for-5 with two RBIs.
However, he and Ronard Castillo both struck out against Jones facing bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
Carson Kelly, who pounded a solo home run in the second inning for the Cards, added a single in the fourth. He ended 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
Not happy with the outcome, Marmol saw some progress with his team by the end of the game.
“You teach these guys to compete, and they did that toward the end,” he said. “It’s just something we like to see from the first pitch on. But games like this happen. Hopefully, you learn from them and don’t let them happen again.”
The Twins struck first with a two-run home run by Rory Rhodes in the top of the first.
The Cardinals answered with Schaffer’s and Kelly’s solo shots. Johnson City pulled ahead in the bottom of the fourth as Kelly scored off a balk.
Elizabethton tied with Niko Goodrum’s RBI double in the fifth before the four-run output in the seventh. Schaffer’s RBI double in the seventh provided the game’s final run.
Juan Bautista started for the Cardinals and pitched to a draw with Mata. Thomas Lee (1-2) suffered the loss after giving up six hits and five runs (three earned) in 1 2/3 innings.
The Twins had just two extra-base hits, but 10 hits overall. First baseman D.J. Hicks was 3-for-5 to lead Elizabethton, while Jhonathan Arias and Jorge Polanco each ended with two hits.
“We didn’t hit a lot of the balls hard, but we found holes,” Smith said. “We like to think we don’t have weak links in our lineup. We feel everybody can contribute offensively as well as they can contribute with the glove. It’s a team game and everybody contributes.”
Game two of the series is scheduled for today at 6 p.m.