Kyle Hald remained perfect on the season and the Johnson City Cardinals stayed alive.
With Hald on the mound, the defending champion Cardinals defeated Danville 7-4 to even their first round Appalachian League playoff series at one game apiece Thursday night at Cardinal Park.
Hald, who was 7-0 during the regular season, scattered seven hits and struck out seven batters over seven innings. Efficient on the mound, he gave up just two walks in the victory.
“I just battled through and the defense helped me out,” said the Springfield, Va. product. “I didn’t have my best stuff, but I like to battle and compete out there.”
He certainly wasn’t overpowering, topping out at 88 mph while many of his change-ups registered in the low 70’s. Using the example of a couple of former Atlanta Braves pitchers -- Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine -- Hald talked about the importance of location more than speed.
“I just threw a lot of off-speed (pitches) and kept them mixed up, he said. “I felt I did pretty well tonight when I didn’t have my best stuff.”
Logan Billbrough and Heath Wyatt came in to give up just one run over the final two innings.
Johnson City manager Mike Shildt added that a key to Hald’s success is he doesn’t try to do too much on the mound.
“He has a lot of poise and he has real good pitchability,” Shildt said. “He has three pitches he can throw for a strike and he knows when to use them. That’s the definition of pitching. That’s the reason he’s an All-Star in this league.”
Hald got plenty of run support in the fourth inning, as the Cards scored five runs to break open a 1-1 game. Back-to-back two-run singles by Bryvic Valera and Matt Williams highlighted the five-run outburst.
“It was huge. Valera getting a two-out hit and Matt Williams getting a two-out hit with two strikes,” Shildt said. “They were just tough at-bats when they really mattered.”
Holding a five-run lead, Hald bent, but didn’t break, giving up two runs in the sixth. While not getting both runs back, the Cardinals answered with David Washington’s solo home run over the Walgreen’s sign in left field.
“We always preach about when we score, they don’t, and when they score, we score,” Shildt said. “That was a big swing for David. It got us back the momentum and gave us a four-run cushion.”
Gary Apelian was the leader at the plate, going 2-for-3 on a night when the Cardinals were outhit by the Braves 10-6. However, a telling statistic was that Johnson City left just five runners on base compared to eight for Danville.
Valera played a prominent role in the lead-off spot. He scored the team’s first run in the first inning after reaching on a walk, and scored off Williams’ single in the fourth.
The deciding game is set for tonight at 7 p.m. with the winner to advance to the championship series.