By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
On the night of the big race in Bristol, the Princeton Rays were off to the races against Bristol.
Yoel Araujo drove in another three runs and hit his seventh home run of the year as the Rays won their sixth game in a row, beating the Bristol White Sox 9-3 Saturday night at Hunnicutt Field.
Winning pitcher D.J. Slaton said, “Once you win, it gets really contagious.”
Araujo, with the help of interpreter Isaac Gil, said about the streak, “We are playing as a team now. Everybody has gotten comfortable with each other. The pitchers have been doing their part; the hitters, too, trying to get some good numbers.”
After a season of frustration, he said winning feels “good. REALLY good.”
Princeton manager Danny Sheaffer said, “It’s a nice turnaround to see guys shaking hands, smiling after a game. It’s always important how you finish, not how you start.”
The first four Princeton batters got hits in a two-run first inning. Bristol pitcher Chris Freudenberg was called for a balk on a nearly-successful pickoff play, and Spencer Edwards hit an RBI single to start the scoring.
Araujo’s double brought Edwards to the plate. The first two outs on the Rays came via a rare 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded.
Bralin Jackson’s fly ball in the second got past Bristol center fielder Thurman Hall, who dove to try to make the catch, and Enmanuel Paulino scored for a 3-0 lead.
Slaton said, “It took me a few minutes to get into a groove, and really get comfortable. But the offense scored a few runs, and allowed me to settle down and just pitch. I really didn’t have to worry about much, just throw strikes.”
“The biggest thing for me is to just try to throw strikes and try to get as many outs as possible so I can get deep into the game. Tonight, I was able to get a few quick outs, and get ahead of most guys. That was the definitely the thing that helped me the most.”
Slaton and the Rays defense retired five of six batters to start out, but Audry Santana singled to lead off the third, Hall was hit by a pitch, and Toby Thomas cracked a single to center to plate both and cut the lead to 3-2.
It was the only inning in which the White Sox got more than one hit.
But an RBI single in the bottom of the third by Elias Torres and a triple on a full count by the next batter, Coty Blanchard, hiked the Princeton advantage to 5-2.
In the Bristol sixth, Patrick Palmiero led off with a solo home run. After a pair of strikeouts sandwiched around a groundout, Slaton’s day was done.
Sheaffer said that Slaton “did OK tonight. He’s pitched better, but he made pitches when he had to, and he kept us in the ballgame, until we got a lead that could stand up.”
“He’s pitched a lot of innings, and he’s getting a little tired, and he’s going to finish strong, like everybody else.”
Nine Bristol batters were retired in order after Palmiero’s home run, by Slaton and reliever Mario Fernandez.
Princeton ended the scoring with a flurry of runs in the seventh off reliever Yelmison Peralta. He walked Edwards, gave up a towering homer to right by Araujo, and another solo homer to Hunter Lockwood, this time over left field, on the next pitch.
Two outs later, Torres smacked the third home run of the inning and Peralta left the mound.
Princeton closer Gil sat down three White Sox in a row to end the game.
Among Princeton’s 13 hits, Araujo and Torres batted 2 for 4, Jackson and Lockwood were 2 for 5, and Leo Correa entered the game in the sixth and went 2 for 2.
Araujo said his streak of nine RBI in two games is like nothing he’s had since he signed to play professional baseball.
“I’m working hard, and only doing the same thing I’ve been doing, looking for that one pitch that I can hit,” he said.
He said about the team’s winning streak, “We are playing as a team now. Everybody has gotten comfortable with each other. The pitchers have been doing their part; the hitters, too, trying to get some good numbers.”
Sheaffer said about Araujo, “I think he’s understanding what his strength is. His strength is middle, middle-away. When he keeps the ball in the middle of the field, he does a lot of damage.”
“I think that’s proof, over the last three or four days. He’s hit some hard balls through the middle of the field. It’s what we expected out of him when he got here, and better late than never.”
“He’s starting to feel a little more comfortable under the lights. Keep in mind that he’s never played night games, and it’s a little bit different for him.”
“It’s a learning process for all these guys, seven days a week.”
Slaton said about Araujo, “He’s amazing. Watching him take BP (batting practice) is something else. He’s something great to watch. ... It’s nice to have that run production in the lineup.”
The pitcher said, “At this point, we’re really just meshing well. All the guys are really enjoying each other, and we’re having a good time.”
Sheaffer said the late-season surge “shows they’re not ready to pack it in and they’re going to finish the season strong. I think one of the keys to those six wins is that we’re playing with very minimal errors.”
“The pitching’s been outstanding. We’ve been getting good starting pitching, and our bullpen’s been real good.”
The turnaround almost seems as if Princeton has fielded two different teams.
“It IS two different teams,” Sheaffer said. “When you mature a little bit, and you understand what’s expected of you on a daily basis, and you get the ‘deer-in-the-headlight’ look out — they’re playing better, and I’m proud of them.”
The final home series of the season begins this evening at 6:05 p.m. The Elizabethton Twins, who still have hopes of postseason play, will pay their only visit to Princeton.
The Twins are three games out of first place in the Appy League West with six games to play.
That holds no significance for Sheaffer. He said, “I expect us to play as well as we’ve played the last six or seven games, and we’ll let the results take care of themselves.”
“We’ve got six games to go, and we’re going to play hard for six games.”
Slaton said, “I think the atmosphere is great right now. I wish this was only halfway through the season, but it is what it is, and I’m glad we’re winning now.”
Jacob Faria is scheduled to get the pitching start for the Rays, and left-hander Stephen Gonsalves is the announced starter for the Twins.
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Hunnicutt Field
Bristol..................002 001 000 — 3 6 2
Princeton.............212 000 40x — 9 13 1
Chris Freudenberg, Devin Moore (4), Yelmison Peralta (5), Jamie Patterson (7) and Zach Stoner. D.J. Slaton, Mario Fernandez (7), Isaac Gil (9) and Armando Ariaza. WP - Slaton (4-2). LP - Freudenberg (0-3). HR - Brs, Palmiero (4), 6th, 0 on. Pctn, Araujo (7), 7th, 0 on; Lockwood (8), 7th, 0 on; Torres (2), 7th, 0 on. Att - 628.