Just call it the ABC’s of baseball — as long as the “C” stands for Cardinals.
In two picture-perfect sequences in the third and fifth innings, the batting order worked the way it is designed and Johnson City earned a 5-1 win over Bristol in an Appalachian League game Saturday night at Cardinal Park.
The Cardinals (25-13) maintained their solid lead over Elizabethton (20-17) in the West Division.
With nobody on and two outs in the third inning, Johnson City got a single and stolen base from Matt Williams. That was followed by an RBI single and stolen base from Tyler Rahmatulla, who scored on clean-up hitter Gary Apelian’s double.
Then in the fifth inning with nobody on and two outs, Williams singled and stole second. Rahmatulla followed with an RBI single, and stole second. This time, Apelian drove a pitch out of the park to make it 5-1 in favor of the Cardinals.
In classic offensive baseball, the top two guys in the order set the table for the No. 3 and No. 4 guys to drive them home. Speed on the basepaths just makes it that much easier for the RBI guys.
“It was just solid baseball,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “Williams got us going with a couple of nice hits, and Rahmatulla had a couple of nice at-bats. And Apelian put a good swing on the ball both times.”
The three players combined for six hits, five RBIs and five runs scored. The RBIs for Rahmatulla and Apelian left them in a tie for the team lead with 24 apiece, and both players are hitting above .300 on the season.
“I’m trying to get a good pitch and not trying to do too much,” said the 20-year-old Apelian, a 27th-round pick from Yorba Linda, Calif. “I’m just trying to simplify things.”
Apelian’s home run was actually simplified by his previous at-bat. He drove a double the opposite field to set up the long ball.
“When you’re hitting it well the other way, you naturally turn on an inside pitch or a hanging pitch,” said Apelian. “I knew I made good contact on it, but I wasn’t sure it was high enough to get over the fence.”
It was his fourth homer of the season.
Also making things work in rhythm for the Cardinals was starting pitcher Josh Lucas. He pitched into the seventh inning to record his fourth win of the season against just one loss.
“I couldn’t have been more tickled,” said Shildt. “He was lights outs. They jumped on him for a run in the first inning, but he responded to that and started making quality pitches.”
Lucas worked 6 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and one run with three walks and seven strikeouts. He ran into trouble in the seventh inning as the White Sox loaded the bases with a single, error and walk. However, Roberto Canache shut the door with a strikeout to end the threat.
“That was a huge out,” said Shildt. “That was an opportunity (Canache) has earned. He has really pitched better the last three or four times out. His slider is really improving.”
Canache pitched the eighth inning and Heath Wyatt finished up. Those two relievers retired seven of the eight batters they faced.
Bristol struck first in the game when Michael Johnson led off with a double, and Grant Buckner drove him in with a one-out single. But that was pretty much it as Kyle Robinson was the only Bristol player with two hits.
The game lasted just two hours and 16 minutes.
The Cardinals travel to play Elizabethton tonight at 7 o’clock.