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It was a classic example of how low-scoring baseball games can still be entertaining.
Johnson City got a walk-off passed-ball 12th-inning win over East Division-leading Bluefield on Friday night at Cardinal Park. The 2-1 Appalachian League decision was filled with good pitching, solid defense, and one timely and explosive hit off the bat of Johnson City's Rowan Wick.
The Cardinals (23-24) gained a game on West-leading Greeneville, but are still five games back of second-place Kingsport in the chase for a wild-card spot.
Richy Pedroza led off the bottom of the 12th inning with a solid single to right field. Leandro Mateo rolled one to shortstop, but beat the double-play rap at first base.
Mateo then stole second base, and moved to third when a sizzling line drive off the bat of Kenny Peoples-Walls was gobbled up by Bluefield second baseman Timothy Locastro. Moving to third on the play was significant because Bluefield pitcher Andres Sotillo left a breaking ball in the dirt, and Mateo scored easily as it skipped to the backstop.
The play was ruled a passed ball even though the ball appeared to be in the dirt.
Cardinals manager Joe Kruzel said Mateo's aggressiveness around the basepaths was a good approach.
“Sometimes you've got to take a chance,” said Kruzel.
The first six innings were a pitching masterpiece. Pitch counts were low as Johnson City's Blake McKnight and Bluefield's Brady Dragmire were putting on a Greg Maddux-like performance — blistering through six innings in 1 hour and 13 minutes.
“It was two similar pitchers,” said Kruzel. “It was like we were batting against McKnight. Those two are power sinker guys who got strikes early in the count. Both of them threw outstanding.”
Bluefield got a break to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh inning. Jorge Saez hit what appeared to be an inning-ending grounder to shortstop, but the ball took a wicked hop over the glove of Mateo for an RBI double.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, it looked like the Cards would lose on the strength of that bad hop. However, Wick stepped to the plate and the left-handed hitter wasn't looking to pull the ball over the short right field fence.
Instead he squarely caught a low-and-away fastball and drove it suddenly over the left-center field fence to tie the game.
“It shows he's really turning into a hitter,” said Kruzel. “He's worked on hitting it where it's pitched, and he's got some strength to the 'oppo' field. It was actually a good pitch, but he put a good swing on it.”
Wick said he was just trying to see the ball out of the pitcher's hand.
“I got a pretty good swing on it, and it went out,” said Wick. “I knew once I hit it that it was going out.”
Tying the game with his team still in the playoff chase was a nice moment for the 20-year-old catcher.
“Obviously (the Blue Jays) are the No. 1 team, but I wasn't thinking about that,” said Wick. “It's a long season, and you can't look at one game as more important than another. But yes it felt good, and we're definitely still trying to make the playoffs.”
The game eventually drifted into the 12th inning on the strength of excellent bullpen work. The two teams' relievers combined for 11 innings, six hits, two runs, three walks and 14 strikeouts.
“Our bullpen was outstanding,” said Kruzel, whose pitchers combined for 14 punch outs and one walk in 12 innings.
Norge Paredes (2-2) got the win with a sharp performance in the top of the 12th, aided by Wick gunning down Matt Dean on an attempted steal with nobody out.
Wick and Saez, the two opposing catchers, were the only players with two hits in the game.
Johnson City plays host to Bluefield again tonight at 6 o'clock.