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ELIZABETHTON — It was a story of explosive velocity for Johnson City, both from the mound and off the barrel of the bat.
The Cardinals got a hammer-down pitching performance from Eduardo Hiraldo and the hitters backed him up with three home runs, including Matt Williams’ three-run jolt, to earn a 6-2 win over Elizabethton on Saturday night at O’Brien Field.
Johnson City, which still has the Appalachian League’s best record, improved to 35-17 and stretched its West Division lead over the Twins (29-23) to six games.
Hiraldo (2-2) struck out seven of the first 10 batters he faced, and totaled 11 punchouts before he left after six innings. His fastball was dynamic.
“In extended spring he showed that kind of life on the ball,” said Johnson City manager Mike Shildt. “But he had not been able to repeat it. Last time he pitched (at Elizabethton), he started to put things together.”
Hiraldo gave up three hits, one run and one walk. Overall it was one of the best performances of the season for the Cardinals.
“No question,” said Shildt. “Fastball on both sides, ball down, secondary pitch on the plate, good location. And he was facing a good club.”
While Hiraldo was dominating on the mound, Williams delivered the game’s biggest hit. With two on and one out in the third inning, he hit a towering homer to left-center field.
“It was a good pitch, a fastball in the zone,” said Williams. “I missed it the first time up, and I wasn’t going to miss it again.”
Williams, who is from Franklin, doesn’t look like a big-time power hitter. But this was his sixth homer of the season, tied for third-best on the team.
“He’s aggressive and has bat speed,” said Shildt. “That’s a good combination. He doesn’t give any swings away, and he stays on the ball pretty well.”
Elizabethton clipped the Cardinals on Friday night, so Williams said he and his teammates felt some urgency in this game.
“We weren’t incredibly worried about it, but they took a game and we had to step it up,” he said. “We just need to come out tomorrow and win the series.”
Elizabethton jumped ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning as Tyler Koelling ripped an RBI double.
However, Williams delivered his shot in the third inning. One inning later, Hector Garcia added to the Cardinals’ advantage with a solo home run over the right field fence to make it 4-1.
In the sixth inning, Tyler Rahmatulla made it 5-1 by blasting a long ball over the left-center field fence.
The Twins got closer in the seventh as Miguel Sano crunched a solo homer to left-center field.
Neil Pritchard had a solid evening in the No. 9 spot in the order for the Cards. He went 3 for 4 and drove in an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning.
Garcia finished with two hits for Johnson City.
For the Twins, the top six batters in their order went 0 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.
Johnson City lowered its magic number for clinching the division title to 11. The Cards’ magic number for a playoff spot with 16 games remaining is 10.
Kingsport is one game behind Elizabethton for a wild-card spot.