The fact the home team had a man on base led to a 2-1 Cardinals victory in a series-opening battle between the Appalachian League West Division’s first- and second-place clubs.
Jake Snider led off the contest by homering for the Pirates (31-31), who were bidding to overtake Johnson City (33-30) for the division’s top spot. In the fourth inning, however, Liam Sabino launched a two-run shot right after Aaron Antonini walked his way aboard.
Sabino has scored the go-ahead run or posted the go-ahead hit in three of the last JC wins.
The Cards now hold a 1 1/2-game edge over Bristol with two contests to go in the series and five for the season. With both West playoff berths still up for grabs, Bristol watched its lead over Kingsport and Elizabethton shrink to a half game and full game, respectively.
Sabino’s sixth home run of the season rewarded an outstanding pitching performance by Julio Puello (4-4), who struck out seven batters and allowed only four hits in a 7 2/3-inning start. Stranding a runner in the eighth and recording the final four Bristol out, Will Guay picked up his fourth save.
Pirates starter Jose Maldanado (4-6) produced an above-average outing, giving up two runs on five hits and striking out five batters in six innings. Reliever C.J. Dandeneau breezed through the seventh and eighth.
All that effective work from the mound made for a 1-hour and 58-minute contest before a crowd of 2,458 fans. It was Cards’ fastest nine-inning game this year.
The Cards host the Pirates again on Saturday, with action beginning at 6:30 p.m. It will be “Star Wars Night” at the park, with the first 1,000 fans receiving a free lightsaber presented by Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union.
It will also be a Sound Off Saturday, featuring live pregame music on the concourse presented by Campbell's Morrell Music. Gates will open at 5 p.m.