ELIZABETHTON — The Johnson City Cardinals built an early lead for a second straight night Wednesday over the Appalachian League Western Division foe Elizabethton Twins, but this time the Cardinals held on for a 6-4 victory.
The win brought Johnson City closer in the West at 14-13, and sent Elizabethton, the leader in the West at the start of the day, out of first place. The Twins fell to 19-10, and combined Greeneville took a half game lead with a victory over Pulaski.
Johnson City returns to Elizabethton for the middle contest of the five-game set tonight at 7 p.m.
Ronald Castillo and Bruce Caldwell both hit two-out RBI singles in the top of the third. In between the hits C.J. McElroy trotted home on a wild pitch.
Caldwell added another RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished 2-for-4 with a stolen base to go with the two RBIs.
Lance Jeffries and McElroy started the top of the third with walks. Ildemaro Vargas moved his teammates up with a sacrifice bunt. It looked like Jeremy Shaffer was going to deliver an RBI hit, but Jorge Polanco made a diving catch at second base for the second out.
Jeffries used a steal of third and a high throw by Michael Quesada sailed into left field for an insurance run in the eighth frame. Jeffries only went 0-for-1 officially, but from the No. 9 spot in the lineup he drew three walks and scored twice.
Combined with McElroy’s three walks, the Cardinals were patient enough to draw 10 free passes.
Elizabethton answered with fourth-inning scores that started with a RBI single from Josh Hendricks that snuck through into right field. Adam Walker was the run scorer after reaching on a fielder’s choice. Later on Romy Jimenez worked a bases-loaded walk. However, Polanco flied out to right on a 2-0 count to end the Twins’ threat.
Jimenez added an RBI groundout to first in the sixth to make it 5-3.
Shaffer helped the Cardinals make it a 6-3 game with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth. The speedy McElroy raced in after a walk and two steals got him to third.
Elizabethton did not go quietly in the final inning. Max Kepler belted his third home run in as many games to start the ninth. After that Rory Rhodes and Adam Walker had singles off Cardinal hurler Ronald Shaban. Rhodes and Walker each produced two hits in a balanced attack that saw 11 Twins hits.
Shaban did go onto to finish the game for his seventh save after the first three batters had hits. He struck out the next two foes before Quesada went down with an infield popup to end the game that lasted three hours and 20 minutes.
Nick Gillung picked up the victory on the mound. He tossed five innings and scattered seven hits that led to a pair of runs. Gillung had to work around three walks, but five strikeouts helped his cause.
Elizabethton’s Angel Mata was the losing pitcher after throwing four complete innings. He was tagged for three runs on as many hits and the same number of walks.