Nothing was able to rattle the Johnson City Cardinals on Sunday night.
Riding a five-game losing streak, the Cardinals (21-12) failed to hit the ball out of the infield in the first three innings and trailed Greeneville 3-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth.
Thanks in large part to Tyler Rahmatulla’s two-run home run, the Cardinals rallied to tie the game, and in the eighth inning, Kolby Byrd added an RBI double for a 4-3 victory.
Backing up the offense, Johnson City pitchers Ryan Sherriff and Kyle Hald combined for no walks and just two earned runs. Hald (4-0) picked up the victory after throwing the final five scoreless innings.
“You lose five games in a row and you’re down 3-0 without a base runner after three innings, it says a lot about how these guys compete,” Johnson City manager Mike Shildt said as his team maintained a one-game lead in the Appalachian League West Division standings. “Tyler hit the big homer and then we tie the game. Then Hald comes in, and that was brilliant pitching. He had control and command of three of his pitches and set the tempo. He threw up a lot of zeroes. That was textbook of how you want a guy to pitch.”
Hald, a left-hander from Virginia who leads the team in wins, struck out the side in the final inning to end the game.
“I just tried to work fast and keep the defense ready to go,” Hald said. “If you take too long, they’re not going to be on their heels. I just tried to work fast, throw strikes and it all worked out for us.”
The 22-year-old, who played collegiately at Old Dominion, welcomed the pressure he faced throughout the evening. He said it was one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals drafted him this season.
“That’s probably my best asset, not getting rattled easily,” Hald said. “I like the competition and being in that spot, especially when you’re able to deliver.”
After Rahmatulla homered to score Steven Ramos, Anthony Garcia doubled and Byrd added the tying run on a fielder’s choice.
It was a preview of the bottom of the eighth when Byrd facing two outs, hit a RBI double off the left field fence to score Garcia for the winning run.
“We had been in a slump lately and I had been in a slump in particular,” said Byrd, a stocky catcher out of Mississippi. “They say if you’re good, you come out of it at the right time.
“Maybe we’ll come back together and start hitting good.”
Rahmatulla ended up as the only Cardinal with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with the two RBIs. Jeremiah Meiners (0-2), who gave up the double to Byrd in the eighth, suffered the loss for the last-place Astros who fell to 12-21.
The Astros pitchers didn’t make it easy.
Same as the Cardinals’ hurlers, they gave up no walks in the game. That, along with the Cardinals’ recent struggles, made it tough for Byrd and the rest of the Johnson City batters to stay positive at the plate.
“It’s hard to keep your composure, but you have to work through the hard times,” Byrd said. “It’s like I’ve been in a slump since the first week, but the last couple of games I’ve started hitting.
“It’s just all staying strong mentally.”
Shildt said the victory was a combination of following through at the plate, in addition to a great defensive effort.
“We just couldn’t put together good swings early, but we had the right approach,” Shildt said. “We give them solid information if they just believe in it, it will give them a chance to have a solid at-bat every time.
“Then, you have to say something about the defensive pressure. Neil Pritchard (the Cardinals’ second baseman) was a human web-gem tonight.”