By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Pulaski’s pitcher was Diaz-zling, and Bluefield’s usually solid Blue Jays were decidedly less so on Tuesday night.
Edwin Diaz struck out 10 Bluefield batters in seven shutout innings as the Pulaski Mariners defeated the Blue Jays 5-1 at Bowen Field to cut Bluefield’s lead over them to 2 1/2 games in the Appalachian League East.
Pulaski (37-22) manager Chris Prieto said about Diaz (5-1), “He had electric stuff tonight. He got some pretty good hitters out tonight with a really good slider (and) he elevated his fastball really well.”
“If you’re controlling the strike zone like he did tonight, he’s tough to hit.”
Bluefield (39-19) manager Dennis Holmberg said, “We had a tough time making some adjustments off of him. He worked fast, he threw strikes.”
Diaz walked one batter, hit two with pitches, and surrendered five hits. The right-handed ace lowered his league-leading earned run average to 1.41.
The middle of the Pulaski lineup made things easy for him.
Kristian Brito, Wilton Martinez and Jesus Ugueto each hit solo home runs, in even-numbered innings. Gabe Franca had an RBI single in the fourth and a double in the ninth that led to an error to account for the Mariners’ final run.
Prieto said, “Those solo shots were big. That was a nice cushion for Diaz to settle in on.”
Bluefield committed four errors.
The Blue Jays also left seven men on base, five of them in scoring position, and two base-runners were caught trying to steal a base.
In the fourth, thanks to Franklin Baretto’s double off the left-field wall, Bluefield had runners at second and third with no outs. The next three batters were retired.
Holmberg said, “We had some opportunities, and we just didn’t get the big hit and maybe extend the inning and maybe throw two or three runs, who knows, three or four runs, up on the scoreboard.”
He lamented “some bad base-running decisions,” but added, “But it was a good ballgame, win, lose or draw, and as much as you’d like to win as many games as you play, sometimes there are tough ballgames.”
The Jays avoided a shutout in the bottom of the ninth when Matt Dean singled on an 0-2 pitch, and scored on a long single to left by Jorge Saez with two outs.
Dean entered the game second in the Appalachian League in batting average (.328), boosted by a .393 hitting percentage in the month of August. He was 1 for 3 on Tuesday. Mitch Nay went 2 for 4. Jesus Gonzalez had a two-out triple in the third.
Alex Maldonado made the defensive play of the night for Bluefield to end the top of the fourth. With base runners on second and third, the second baseman made a quick move to his left and lunged to snag a liner and rob a potential hit from Aaron Barbosa, who ended the night 3 for 5 at bat.
Holmberg said of Maldonado, “He’s made a number of plays, and tougher plays than that, in the past, but that was a big play.”
Jairo LaBourt (2-2), the Bluefield starter, took the loss, going four innings and giving up five hits — two of them homers — and three earned runs. Alberto Tirado handled the other five innings, striking out six Mariners and allowing five more hits.
Prieto said Bluefield “is a really good ballclub. They’re a tough team, and for our guys to come in here, into their home park, and to play well, is a good sign. And hopefully we can continue to play well here all the way through.”
With the two top teams from the Appy East slated to play each other in the first round of the playoffs, Prieto added, “We could possibly play them again here, pretty soon.”
He said about his Mariners, “This team has been resilient all year long. They’ve played every pitch hard. They deserve to be in the playoffs. They’re a great group of kids.”
“Our work’s not done. We made the playoffs. (We’ll) celebrate. We’ve still got a job to do. They set a goal to win the whole thing, and you’ve got to come back ready to play.”
Holmberg said, “Pulaski’s a fine club. That’s why they’re in second place, and they’re back to 2 1/2 games out. We’ve got to continue to play well ... .”
Bowen Field will be quiet today, in keeping with Holmberg’s dictate that his team take an actual day off during the league-wide off day.
After that, there are three series left to play against Western Division teams, starting with a visit by second-place Kingsport, Thursday through Saturday.
Holmberg said, “I think at this time of the year they all need an off day. And after a game like this, it’s good to maybe step back, take a deep breath, and prepare for the three-game series against Kingsport — who we haven’t played all year.”
In the final nine games of the regular season, he said, “We’ve got to continue to play like we’ve been capable of playing.”
“I’m happy that we’ve already clinched. The toughest thing to do, sometimes, is ... knowing that you’re in the playoffs, is to continue to play competitively. But the players know all that.”
“We’ll take the day off tomorrow, and try to enjoy it.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Bowen Field
Pulaski...................010 201 001 — 5 10 0
Bluefield................000 000 001 — 1 7 4
Edwin Diaz, Rafael Pineda (8) and Toby DeMello. Jairo LaBourt, Alberto Tirado (5) and Jorge Saez. WP - Diaz (5-1). LP - LaBourt (2-2). HR - Pul, Brito (9), 2nd, 0 on; W. Martinez (11), 4th, 0 on; Ugueto (6), 6th, 0 on.