But the ballgame ended on the best note possible for the Baby Birds, who rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to get a 7-6 walkoff win over Bluefield on a bases-loaded walk.
It was also Steve Spurrier bobble-head night at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. The former Heisman Trophy winner, national championship winning coach at Florida and Science Hill Hilltopper threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game and also answered a few questions.
“We (Science Hill) had a hard time winning the close games in football and basketball, but we could win the close ones in baseball,” Spurrier said. “A reporter asked me when I won my last game in the AAF with the Orlando Apollos in Memphis if it was my greatest victory in Tennessee. I told him that my greatest victory in this state was in 1963 when we won the state championship against Christian Brothers in Memphis.”
IN THE NINTH
The Blue Jays had built a 6-4 lead going into the final frame and held the Cardinals to just four hits. At the start of the eighth inning, Bluefield elected to bring in reliever Kyle Huckaby.
It looked to be a wise decision as he retired the side with two quick strikeouts and a pop out to center.
That would change very quickly.
Mateo Gil, Kyle Skeels and Victor Garcia all walked to start the final inning and Johnson City had the bases loaded with no one out. Pinch hitter Luis Sabino came up and hit a gap shot to left field on a 2-2 count that tied the game at 6.
After Todd Lott was walked intentionally and Raffy Ozuna popped up to the catcher, the Cardinals were again in business with the bases loaded and only one out.
Diomedes Del Rio worked what was a 1-2 count back to a 3-2 count.
Huckaby’s next pitch was high and outside, walking in the winning run.
DANIELS’ BIG NIGHT
Bluefield right fielder DJ Daniels had a night to remember even though his team lost the game.
He finished the evening 3-for-4 with two two-run home runs — one in the fourth and the other in the sixth. He also had a double that almost cleared the left-field wall.
Ryan Sloniger tagged a solo homer for Bluefield as he batted 2-for-4.
ONE HIT THROUGH SIX
Bluefield starter Felipe Castaneda pitched a gem, going six strong innings and giving up just one hit. The lone hit was the second batter of the game in Johnson City’s Malcolm Nunez, who hit a massive solo homer to center field.
Castaneda’s ultimately ended with a no decision as Huckaby was pegged with the loss and blown save.
Cardinals reliever Enrique Perez pitched just one inning but earned the win, striking out two and throwing just 13 pitches.
The Cardinals and Blue Jays will resume the battle-of-the-birds series on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s game is also the sesquicentennial celebration night for the Cardinals.