Bluefield is guaranteed an Appalachian League playoff spot beginning on Aug. 31, but will the Blue Jays be East Division champs or a wild card entry?
“Our intention is to finish first, but we have to continue to maintain to get that first place finish,” Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said. “We have seven games to go so we will see what happens.”
The East Division race got closer on Friday, as Kingsport played like a team with plenty to play for in a second straight 7-0 decision over the Blue Jays in front of 874 spectators at Bowen Field.
Bluefield (39-21) continues to lead the East by 1 1/2 games over Pulaski (38-23). Kingsport (35-25) is in more of a desperate situation, leading Greeneville by one game and Elizabethton is just two back in the West, where only two of those three teams will get a playoff berth.
Obviously, the Mets must win.
“It is hard to explain,” Holmberg said. “It is just that thing about you are waiting for the end of the season to start a new season, but that is really not an excuse.”
Kingsport played like the team in need, collecting 10 hits, scoring five runs in the seventh, and holding the Blue Jays to six hits and no runs for a second straight night.
“The last two nights for them, two really well pitched ball games from their starters, we didn’t have very many opportunities,” Holmberg said. “You have to give them a lot of credit, they are chasing something over there too.”
Kingsport, which took a 1-0 lead in the second, added five more in the seventh, with three balls — a bunt and two infield rollers — that all resulted in baserunners and runs for the Mets.
Jeyckol De Leon had the big hit in the inning, a two-run single through a drawn in infield. Victor Cruzado also had an RBI single for the Mets.
“They have that little bit of something going,” Holmberg said. “A little bunt base hit, a squibber there, another ball leaked through the infield.
“This is the first time we have played them and they came out scrappy and they are playing for something over there. Baseball is a funny game, it works in different forms and fashions every night.”
Bluefield collected six hits, including a triple by Jonathan Davis, but the Blue Jays were 0-for-7 with runners on base. Holmberg was trying to give starters some rest, including D.J. Davis, who didn’t play Friday, and Matt Dean, who was scratched from the lineup with illness.
“I still have confidence in the ball club,” Holmberg said. “We are not firing on all cylinders right now, trying to give guys days off...We have to find some time to get some rest and give some of these other guys a chance to play.”
All 10 Kingsport hits were singles, including two apiece by De Leon, Jeff McNeill and Champ Stuart. De Leon had two RBIs, while Stuart scored two runs.
Brandon Welch (2-0) earned the win for Kingsport, striking out seven and allowing just three hits in 5 1/3 innings on the mound. He was replaced by Carlos Gomez, who finished up for his first save. That duo combined to strike out 11 and walk just one.
Chase De Jong (2-3), who surrendered just one run in four innings on the mound, was saddled with the loss. The Blue Jays used four pitchers, striking out 12 and walking six.
Bluefield will host Kingsport tonight in the regular season home finale beginning at 7:05 p.m. The Blue Jays, who will visit Greeneville and Kingsport next week for a pair of three-game series, will begin playoff action next Saturday.
The question is, will the Jays be division champs or runner-ups?
“Every game is different, tomorrow is another day,” Holmberg said. “We have just got to come out tomorrow and find a way to get back on track.”
at Bowen Field
Kingsport.................010 000 510 — 7 10 0
Bluefield..................000 000 000 — 0 6 1
Brandon Welch, Carlos Gomez (6) and Jeyckol De Leon. Chase De Jong, Yeyfry Del Rosario (5), Phil Kish (7), Joe Lovecchio (8) and Jorge Saez. W—Welch (2-0); L—De Jong (2-3); S—Gomez (1). HR—none. Att—874.