One big inning was the difference for the Johnson City Cardinals.
Cole Lankford’s three-run home run highlighted a five-run third inning for Johnson City which held to score a 5-4 victory over the Bristol Pirates on Saturday night at Cardinal Park.
Lankford, a left-handed batter, took a low fastball and sent it over the left field fence for his second home run of the season.
“I just got a good pitch to hit, put a good swing on it and it happened to carry over the wall,” said Lankford, a 22-year-old who was drafted in the 27th round out of Texas A&M. “But, it was two great at-bats by the guys in front of me. Chris (Rivera) came in clutch and the guys were doing their jobs. No doubt, I was able to get a good swing on it.”
It pulled Johnson City (14-13) within two and a half games of idle Elizabethton in the Appalachian League West Division standings. The Twins’ home game with Burlington was postponed with a doubleheader scheduled to start today at 5 p.m. at Joe O’Brien Field.
“We’re just trying to stay within ourselves and worry about ourselves,” Lankford said. “We’re just trying to control what we can. We’re trying to put good bats together, get good pitching on the mound and get the win at the end of the day.”
Johnson City starter Matt Pearce struck out four and gave up five hits, no walks and one run over the first four innings. He was pulled on a pitch count and Josh Wirsu (1-1) was credited with the win after giving up a run over the next two innings. Isaac Silva gave up another run in the seventh and Jeff Barkley gave up two runs in the top of the ninth before Juan Caballer struck out the final two batters to close out the game.
“Pearce could only go four innings. That was set by the supervisors,” Johnson City manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “We knew we were going to have to stretch with the guys. Silva had a sore elbow and hadn’t pitched in 14 days. Barkley hadn’t pitched in eight days and Wirsu hadn’t pitched in 10 days with a sore shoulder. Those are the guys we had to use so I wanted to get a bigger lead than 5-1. What I have to say, the relievers made the pitches when they had to.”
Bristol, which has a league worst record at 8-18, pulled ahead in the top of the third off a RBI single by Jerrick Suiter.
The Cardinals responded with two outs in the bottom of the inning. Rivera had a two-run single drop in right field before Lankford hit his three-run blast to the opposite side of the field.
From there, the Pirates scored a run in the top of the sixth when Nathan Tomaszewski’s bases-loaded walk plated Suiter. Bristol added another run the following inning with a RBI ground out by Suiter to score Pablo Reyes.
A RBI double down the left-field line by Edgar Figueroa cut the lead to just a single run. A single by Suiter then advanced Figueroa to third. A catcher’s interference loaded the bases, but Caballer struck out the next two batters for his second save of the season.
His first out was highlighted by a third-strike breaking ball which left Bristol’s Trae Arbet swinging wildly.
“He’s been working on making it tighter,” Rodriguez said about Caballer’s breaking ball. “It sweeps on him, but I believe he’s got enough of a fastball where he can use that if he can keep it tighter.”
In addition to Lankford’s homer on the offensive end, Rivera went 2-for-3 and Jesus Ustariz finished 2-for-4 at the plate.
Junior Lopez (2-2) suffered the loss for the Pirates, giving up five hits and the five runs (all earned) in the game-changing bottom of the third.
The teams are scheduled to play again at Cardinal Park today at 4 p.m..