A night after losing a one-run game in 16 innings, Johnson City Cardinals outfielder Gary Apelian wasn’t interested in working overtime.
Apelian hit a game-tying two-run double in the bottom of the eighth, advanced to third base on the relay throw to the plate and scored the winning run on a two-out passed ball as Johnson City beat Danville 6-4 Saturday at Cardinal Park.
Hector Garcia provided an insurance run with a long, two-out home run toward the post office behind the left-center field fence.
The Appalachian League West Division-leading Cardinals (38-20) and the Braves (33-25), who are in second place in the East, are on pace to meet in the first round of the playoffs. They’ll play the rubber game of a three-game series today at 6 p.m.
Danville would be going for a sweep today if not for Apelian. He tied the score at 2 in the sixth with a hard-hit one-out single through the middle. It scored Neil Pritchard, who’d started the Cards’ scoring by following Matt Williams’ single with a 390-foot double that one-hopped the wall in right-center field.
Apelian’s double in the eighth came when he lined a down-and-in sinker to left field. The ball took a high hop past Kenny Fleming to get to the fence.
“Actually, when I hit it I thought he was going to catch it,” Apelian said. “But those line-drives — I know as an outfielder — are the toughest balls to read. Luckily, it got down and we ended up scoring.”
Extra innings were looming again before Apelian raced home when a low, two-out pitch got past catcher Nick DeSantiago.
“It’s exciting,” said Apelian, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs. “I came into the series pressing a little bit too much, but I kind of relaxed.”
Right-handed pitcher Eduardo Hiraldo provided a gutsy start for Johnson City. He allowed two runs through seven innings, but Danville did score two more off him before he was lifted with one out in the eight. Kyle Kubitza’s RBI double gave Danville a 3-2 lead and William Beckwith’s one-out double off the left-center field fence made it 4-2 and chased Hiraldo.
Johnson City manager Mike Shildt wouldn’t have sent Hiraldo back out for the eighth had he not used eight pitchers in Friday’s loss.
“No question about that,” Shildt said. “He would’ve been out after the seventh. It was a tough decision to start him in the eighth, but you know, we’re just short with our ’pen. We had to ask the guy to give that kind of performance, and he was outstanding.”
Hiraldo allowed four runs in 7 1/3 innings. He was on a 100-pitch limit, and only threw 86.
“Hiraldo did a good job keeping the bullpen rested,” Apelian said. “He came up big.”
Roberto Canache (2-1) got the victory with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. He stranded Beckwith at second base by getting Chase Larsson and DeSantiago to pop out on the infield in the seventh, and he got a strikeout and a game-ending flyout after Elmer Reyes and Edison Sanchez had reached second and third, respectively, via a hit and a walk, then advancing on a wild pitch — all with one out.
“You can’t say enough about Canache,” Shildt said. “He comes in and gets out of the eighth and he got out of his own situation in the ninth — just bore down and made quality pitches and got it done.”
Pritchard finished 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs and the RBI. He also had a 385-foot flyout to center field.
Garcia was 2-for-4 with a double and the long home run.
“That ball was a no-doubter,” Shildt said. “It was a big insurance run, because it changes the dnyamic of how you handle he ninth.”
Garcia also reached on an error and was retired after hitting the ball sharply thanks to a strong throw from shortstop Nick Ahmed from shallow left field.
Hard-charging Cards’ center fielder Steven Ramos threw out Ahmed trying to advance from first to third on Kubitza’s one-out single in the fifth. Kubitza was then thrown out trying to steal second by Jesus Montero.
Ahmed was 3-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. Kubitza was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run. Reyes was 2-for-4.
A.J. Holland, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound right-hander, allowed two runs in seven innings in his second start of the season. Holland gave up five hits, walked one and struck out five.