By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
There would be no late comeback on this night.
Trailing by five runs heading into the eighth on Thursday night, Bluefield scored six runs to defeat Elizabethton in a matchup of first place teams.
A similar scenario awaited on Friday, but Elizabethton was able to hold on for a 3-0 win over the Blue Jays in front of 742 spectators on Saturday night at Bowen Field.
“Anytime you come into Bluefield to play these guys, I think you are fortunate to get to escape with one win,” Elizabethton manager Ray Smith said. “We had a chance (on Thursday), it is a team game, you win as a team and lose as a team.
“Our young guys out there in the bullpen we brought in just couldn’t hold the lead against a free-swinging offensive club.”
There were no such problems on this night for Smith, who has a record 805 regular season wins in the Appalachian League. He was just pleased to escape Bluefield with 13-inning win on Friday, and a shutout on the next night.
“That is just the way the game is played. Sometimes we are going to ambush teams and sometimes we are going to get snake-bit ourselves,” Smith said. “A good team like that, you never have a win until you are in the clubhouse when the game is over.
“The same thing tonight, they have some boppers on that bench they can bring in and hit one out and tie the game up in a flash. We are just fortunate to come in and get out with a win.”
D.J. Davis led off the bottom of the first with a walk for the Blue Jays, but Yorman Landa retired the next 10 batters before Derrick Loveless reached on an infield single in the fifth.
Bluefield (10-5) had just five hits, including two from Loveless, but the Blue Jays were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left seven runners on base. Still, manager Dennis Holmberg felt like Bluefield had a chance until the very end since the Twins were 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base.
“That is the type of ball game on either side where you get so many hits and you score so few runs and the other team comes back and maybe puts a couple of guys on and there is a big double or a home run and the whole game changes,” Holmberg said. “Certainly they swung the bats very well tonight.
“We only had five hits, we had a couple of chances, but not enough to really make a difference in the game not coming up with the big hit.”
Elizabethton (12-3), which had four players with multiple hits, went on top in the third, with Ryan Walker leading off with a single to center off Brady Dragmire. Zach Granite followed with a bunt that was fielded by first baseman Matt Dean, but no one covered first to put two runners on base.
Kelvin Ortiz, who had three hits, followed with an infield grounder that Dragmire fielded, but threw wildly to first to allow Walker to score. Granite would later cross the plate on a ground ball by Ryan Rhodes.
A third run scored in the third when Romy Jimenez singled, and Javier Pimentel followed with a shot into the left field corner. Jimenez narrowly beat the relay throw to the plate.
Elizabethton also received two hits each from Granite, Jimenez and Pimentel, but Bluefield left fielder Melvin Garcia flashed the leather against the Twins. He made two catches against the wall, and also had a pair of diving snags, and wound up turning a pair of double plays in the fifth and sixth innings.
“We were not very efficient, we didn’t run the bases very well,” said Smith, whose Twins got a leadoff triple by Mitch Garver in the second, but he was left stranded on base. “I know the left fielder stole about 5 or 6 runs off of us, a couple of those balls get past him and we break the game open which would have made the game a lot easier.
“He stole at least 5 or 6 runs out there with those diving catches he was making.”
The fact that Elizabethton is on top in the West Division is no surprise. The defending league champions have won five of the last 10 Appalachian League titles.
“It is awfully early, all teams are going to get into streaks where they really get breaks and win some games here and there and we are just kind of in a streak now, that is not to say things won’t turn around anytime,” Smith said. “You have to battle every night, every at-bat you have got to grind out at-bats and you have got to make pitches and play defense and keep working on the fundamentals of the game.
“When all the dust settles in late-August and we are in the hunt, that is great, but we are just going to try to keep on working.”
Bluefield, which had an infield hit in five innings against Landa, finally got its first two hits to the outfield in the sixth with consecutive two-out singles from Alex Maldonado and Loveless, but reliever Tim Shibuya worked out of the jam.
Garcia and pinch-hitter Eric Arce each singled in the eighth, but were left stranded. Brian Gilbert earned the save, retiring the final three batters of the game after Mitch Nay had reached on a two-base error to lead off the ninth.
“Landa is only 19 and Shibuya is coming off of arm surgery, he is like a rehab guy...,” Smith said. “We just brought in that new guy at the end. We didn’t know how he was going to react in a closer’s role, it is just closer by committee, it was just his turn to try.”
Dragmire allowed six hits, striking out seven and walking none, but was saddled with the loss. Joe Lovecchio and Justin D’Alessandro worked the final five innings, surrendering six hits, but no runs.
“The pitching was good enough to win, you give up three runs or less. We have been averaging 6 or 7 runs, something like that,” Holmberg said. “We weren’t able to garnish that, but give Elizabethton credit, they pitched well, they ran the bases well, they had a number of hits in the series.”
Bluefield, which is still in first place in the East Division, will try to bounce back today when the Blue Jays host Johnson City at 6:05 p.m.
“You would certainly like to have gotten two out of three,” Holmberg said. “Last night’s ball game could have gone our way and tonight’s ball game might have been different, but they played well. We just didn’t have enough juice tonight.”
Holmberg wasn’t using Friday’s 13-inning affair as an excuse for consecutive defeats, especially since the Twins faced the same scenario.
“They did too, it is not like we played 13 and the other team played 10, but we will play them again over there,” Holmberg said. “We will try to measure ourselves up again with them so we just move on and look to play Johnson City in the next three days.”
Bird seed: Shane Dawson and Chase De Jong will pitch tonight for the Blue Jays...Tazewell native Zak Wasilewski will get the start on Monday.
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Bowen Field
Elizabethton............002 100 000 — 3 13 1
Bluefield...................000 000 000 — 0 5 1
Yorman Landa, Tim Shibuya (6), Brian Gilbert (7) and Mitch Garver. Brady Dragmire, Joe Lovecchio (5), Justin D’Alessandro (9) and Jorge Saez. W—Landa (2-0); L—Dragmire (0-1); S—Gilbert (1). HR—none. Att—742.