follow Douglas Fritz on Twitter @FritzBlitzzz
Rowan Wick lit a fuse — and blew Greeneville out of the water.
The Johnson City right fielder hit two homers and totaled six RBIs to spark the Cardinals to a 9-4 win over the Astros in an Appalachian League baseball game Wednesday night at Cardinal Park.
It was the eighth win in the last 11 games for the Cardinals, who are forcing their way into the West Division playoff picture at the expense of first-place Greeneville. Johnson City (28-25) is just five games back of the Astros (33-20) and 2½ games behind Kingsport for the wild-card spot.
Wick was a problem all night for Greeneville. He went 3 for 4 and scored twice to go along with his park-exit strategy.
“I've been seeing the ball a lot better than I had been,” said Wick, a native of North Vancouver, British Columbia. “I'm just trying to take good at-bats.”
Wick did his first damage in the fifth inning. He crushed a 400-foot blast over the center field fence to tie the game at 1-1.
“The first homer was on a fastball, so I knew he wasn't going to throw me anything to hit in the next at-bat,” said Wick.
In the sixth inning, Wick came to the plate looking for something with a break in it as his team held a 4-2 advantage with two runners on base. Wick sized up the first pitch and mashed it well over the right field fence — a ball the Astros' right fielder never seemed to see.
“I knew once I hit it, it had a chance,” said Wick, who added he empathized with Greeneville right fielder Ariel Ovando because it was difficult to see in that part of the outfield.
“I was out there, and there were some balls you could not see,” said Wick.
Wick's damage wasn't finished. He came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning, so there was no chance for Greeneville to walk him. Wick drove a fastball to left-center field for a single, plating two runs to make it 9-2.
“I wasn't trying to do anything too much,” he said. “I was just trying to hit it hard.”
Cardinals' manager Joe Kruzel said Wick has been spending time with coach Roberto Espinoza to improve his hitting. Wick's batting average climbed to .281 for the season, and he now has nine homers and 32 RBIs — both top-five numbers in the Appalachian League.
“He's putting together a pretty good year,” said Kruzel. “He has been getting some pitches a little elevated over the middle of the plate, and he's capable of doing some damage. He squared up three balls tonight, and fortunately two of them left the park.”
It wasn't all about Wick. Johnson City starter Will Anderson (1-3) continued a trend of good pitching for the Cardinals during their recent run of solid play. Anderson worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing three hits and two runs with two walks and four strikeouts.
“The pitching has been better the last couple of weeks,” said Kruzel. “And we've been coming up with big, key, timely hits.”
Frankie Rodriguez had an RBI single to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Yoenny Gonzalez added an RBI single to make it 3-1, and Vaughn Bryan drove in another run with an RBI groundout.
Justin Ringo finished with two hits for the Cardinals and scored two runs.
Greeneville got two hits apiece from Tanner Mathis, Brian Holberton and Alfredo Gonzalez, who hit a solo homer in the third inning.
Astros' starter Enderson Franco (2-4) was perfect for four innings before giving up seven runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
Johnson City begins a three-game series at Elizabethton tonight at 7 o'clock.