With pitching like Johnson City got Tuesday night, a third straight Appalachian League title doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
The Cardinals got a lock-down effort and 12 total strikeouts from four pitchers, and defeated Elizabethton 4-2.
The Cardinals (24-19) moved to 4½ games behind the first-place Twins in the West Division. They also took advantage of Greeneville’s double-header loss at the hands of Pulaski to open up a 1½ game lead for the wild-card playoff position.
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said he’s not focusing on a title chase.
“We just continue developing our guys, and teach them how to play the game the right way,” said Marmol. “But they compete. They don’t know how to do anything different. It’s the same mindset every day, compete all nine innings.”
Juan Bautista started things off on the mound with 5 1/3 strong innings. He left with the bases loaded in the sixth, but Jacob Booden induced a sacrifice fly and a groundout to limit the damage — ending the inning with the Cards still holding a 4-1 lead.
Booden’s effort was the turning point in the game, said Marmol.
“That was a game-changer right there,” he said. “It was huge as far as keeping the momentum on our side.”
Samuel Tuivailala then took over, striking out the first four batters he faced. Marmol tried to let him finish and earn the save, but Tuivailala gave up two hits and a walk to load the bases.
One mistake pitch changed the inning for Tuivailala as he got too much of the plate with an 0-2 count on No. 9 hitter Jorge Palanco, who singled sharply to right field.
“He is just starting to pitch, and he’s very raw,” said Marmol. “But we are excited about what Tuivailala can do in the future.
“We wanted to give him an opportunity to see if he could close out the game. But then (Ronald) Shaban came in and did what he does best.”
Shaban got two outs and earned his 11th save of the season.
It only took a few batters for the Cardinals to jump ahead. Two walks, a stolen base and a passed ball set the stage for Jeremy Schaffer’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first inning.
Johnson City broke loose in the third inning with four straight hits. C.J. McElroy Jr. clubbed a double and Illdemaro Vargas penetrated a driving rain storm with a towering blast over the left-center field fence to make it 3-0.
After a single by Adam Ehrlich, Schaffer drove a double off the right field fence to give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.
The Twins had two-out doubles in four of the first five innings, but couldn’t break through with a run until they got a leadoff double in the sixth inning. Elizabethton loaded the bases with one out, and made it 4-1 on Travis Harrison’s sacrifice fly.
McElroy Jr. finished was the only Cardinals’ player with two hits. Elizabethton got two hits from Candido Pimentel and Max Kepler, who had two doubles.
These teams will meet again tonight at 7 o’clock.