Johnson City eliminated the drama early in a do-or-die playoff contest before eliminating Danville 10-1 Friday night.
The Cardinals advance to the Appalachian League Championship today at 6 p.m. at Cardinal Park as a three-game series against Bluefield, an 11-7 winner over Elizabethton, is the last hurdle for a Johnson City title repeat.
Johnson City used a complete game against the Braves with starting pitcher Eduardo Hiraldo dominating Danville’s bats, his defense backing him up with a flawless effort, and the Cardinals’ bats lighting it up with a 16-for-38 (.421 BA) effort at the plate.
“Smokey (hitting coach Ramon Ortiz) did tremendous work and gave us good information about how to approach things,” said manager Mike Shildt. “It gets back to not giving anything away, having a good plan, and not trying to do too much.”
Hiraldo (82â„3 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER, 4 K, 2 BB) didn’t need much run support but got it anyway. The 18-year-old Dominican had a fast ball that peaked around 90 MPH and off-speed that dropped into the low 70s and with tremendous location kept the hitters guessing all night.
“I felt pretty good the whole way,” said Hiraldo with Ortiz interpreting. “I sort of mixed up my pitches in order to try to get some hitters off balance and located the fast ball to set up the other pitches.”
“I felt strong as the game went on knowing that I was throwing the pitches where I wanted to throw them.”
Johnson City’s offensive was helped out by an early booted ball in the first. Leadoff hitter Bryvic Valera hit a sharp ground ball to first that bounced off the first baseman’s foot for the flub. After Valera snagged second, Tyler Rahmatulla poked a single to right to bring him home and give the Cards a 1-0 edge.
Gary Apelian (2-for-4) followed with a similar shot to right before Danville committed its second error of the frame when starting pitcher Greg Ross missed a force-out throw to second. The error loaded the bags and came back to haunt Ross when David Washington came to the plate.
With two outs Washington (2-for-4) smacked a line drive to right to plate two while pushing the lead to 3-0.
From there the flood gates opened with Johnathan Keener (2-for-3), Steven Ramos (2-for-4), and Valera each accounting for run-scoring singles, ending Ross’ night in the first. Ryne Harper entered to get the third out of the frame and thanks to six unearned runs and a 6-of-12 performance at plate the Cards led 6-0 after a frame.
“He was able to really get out of that inning just giving up one run, but as it was ended up giving up six,” said Braves (40-31) manager Randy Ingle. “But they never gave up and I’m really proud of them. It shows good character.”
Valera, a Venezuelan, led Johnson City (47-24) at the plate in the lead-off spot, but said he had to up his game when he came to the Cardinals from the Gulf Coast League earlier this year.
“When I got here I had some mistakes in my swing that Ortiz started working with me in order to compete with the rest of the teammates,” said Valera through translation. “Because when I got here the team was swinging the bats pretty well”
The Cards’ two-out offense again erupted in bottom of the third. From the eight-spot Keener pulled a liner down the left base line and raced around the bags to barely beat the throw at third. Ramos sent him home on the next pitch with a line drive up the gut.
Valera (3-for-5) followed with a single to left and an errant throw to second allowed Ramos to come home to push the lead to 8-0 on the Braves’ third error of the night.
The Cardinals tacked on another pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth when Valera continued his hot night with a double to left. From there Matt Williams went yard with a no-doubter over the scoreboard and the lead was 10-0 heading into the seventh.
The Braves countered with a solo shot from William Beckwith to open the seventh, but Hiraldo got the next three batters in order to close the frame.
Roberta Canache (11â„3 IP, 2 H) closed out the game for the Cards while Harper pitched the majority for Danville, going 41â„3 while allowing five hits and two runs. The Braves were led at the plate by Kyle Kubitza (3-for-4) and William Beckwith (2-for-4).