Gary Apelian went 3-for-4 with two doubles and ended the game with a long, running catch on the warning track to help the Johnson City Cardinals complete a three-game sweep of Greeneville with an 8-7 victory Tuesday at Cardinal Park.
The first-place Cardinals (23-12) opened the second half of the Appalachian League season by remaining three games in front of Elizabethton in the West Division.
Apelian’s glove proved to be the difference. The Astros scored three in the top of the ninth and loaded the bases to chase Cardinals closer Heath Wyatt. Dyllon Nuernberg came on and got a one-pitch save thanks to Apelian, who got a good jump on Jose Monzon’s drive and was still galloping toward the right-field corner when he caught it.
Apelian has been spending extra time of late working on his hitting with Johnson City assistant Ramon “Smokey” Ortiz.
“I made a slight adjustment working with Smokey,” Apelian said. “He’s the best hitting guy I’ve ever been around. Little things make a big difference.
“I was crouched a little too much. I was dropping my back shoulder. He just had me loosen up a little bit and dip down through the ball.”
Apelian’s work was rewarded immediately. He hit a 2-2 fastball off the left-center field wall for a double in his first at-bat, and drove a 2-2 fastball to right-center field for a double in the his second at-bat. His first double was part of a two-run first, and the RBI double in the third was part of a four-run frame that gave the Cardinals a 6-3 lead.
“He’d been crouching too much, crowding the plate too much,” Ortiz said. “His body was not with the right posture. So today early we were working to straighten him up.
“That kid’s a hard worker. As he gets more disciplined at the plate, he’s gonna hit.”
David Washington hit a 3-2 pitch the other way for a home run over the scoreboard in left field during a two-run seventh that gave Johnson City an 8-4 lead. Roberto De La Cruz scored the second run of the frame in bizarre fashion. He hustled to reach second base on a two-base error by second baseman Ruben Sosa, then advanced to third base on a wild pitch and came home when catcher Luis Alvarez’s throw went into left field.
Johnson City starter Jose Pasen (3-2) allowed three runs in five innings for the victory. Pasen gave up five hits, walked three and struck out four. He gave up a run in the first and two in the second.
“A leadoff walk to start the game scores ... and a one-out walk in the second scores,” Johnson City manager Mike Shildt said. “We’re looking at putting ourselves in tough spots and getting behind. But to his credit, after the second he found a groove and started making more quality pitches. He put up zeroes in the third, fourth and fifth, and that was critical.”
Pasen retired eight of the final nine batters he faced.
Lanky left-hander Ricardo Batista (2-2) took the loss. He gave up six runs in 2 1/3 innings. Batista walked four and struck out none after entering the game with 24 strikeouts and eight walks.
“We’re not chasing pitchers’ pitches,” Apelian said.
Johnson City had lost five straight before meeting up with the last-place Astros (12-23).
“You get a few losses, but you know you’re gonna break out of it,” Apelian said. “We’re a good team. We’re gonna get our share of wins.”
Center fielder Steven Ramos was 2-for-5 with a triple for the Cardinals. Left fielder Ronald Castillo and catcher Johnathan Keener were each 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Sosa was 2-for-5 with three RBIs for Greeneville. He also hustled to score from second base on Chase Davidson’s infield single up the middle.
Johnson City is off today. It hosts Bristol and manager Pete Rose Jr. for the opening game of a three-game series Thursday at 7.