Andrew Toles saw what all the fuss was about before making the trip from Princeton for the second night of the Mercer Cup.
He did his part to even the series at one game apiece.
Toles doubled, singled, scored two runs and drove in a run, and the Princeton bullpen overpowered Bluefield batters over the final five innings to defeat the Blue Jays 6-5 in front of 887 spectators on Wednesday night at Bowen Field.
“Our general manager, Jim (Holland), he actually showed us a picture of the Cup before we got on the bus just to remind us how important it was,” Toles said. “It is important to all of us.”
Bluefield won the opener on Tuesday 5-4 in another one-run affair.
“We felt like we got one stole from us last night,” Princeton manager Michael Johns said. “It was good to get it back tonight, it is just a fun series, I know the fans like it.
“If you don’t like those two games, there is something wrong with you. It is better to win them, but they have been two good games.”
Both teams scored 2 and 3 runs in innings to tie the score at 5-5. Princeton scored the deciding run in the fifth when Reid Redman — who homered earlier — drew a walk, swiped second base and scored on an RBI double to right field by Omar Narvaez.
Bluefield (11-16) had no answers for the Princeton bullpen, which worked five innings in relief of Eli Echarry, allowing two hits, walking two and striking out seven. Christopher Kirsch (1-0) picked up the win in his first professional appearance, while Zach Butler collected his fifth save after replacing Nick Sawyer in the ninth.
Princeton (15-14) was able to win despite committing four errors to just one for Bluefield.
“Obviously five innings and no runs was impressive,” Johns said. “Our bullpen did a really nice job, my hats off to them and I thought our offense did enough early.
“We are better than that defensively. We have to get better than that, but overall I am really proud of them.”
Toles, a third round draft choice in June from Chipola Junior College in Florida, got Princeton off to a fast start, greeting starter Daniel Norris by lining a shot into left field and didn’t stop running until reaching second base.
“I am used to that,” said Toles, a native of Fayetteville, Ga., who originally went to the University of Tennessee. “I just the hit the ball over the third baseman’s head and run like hell.
“I am just doing what I can do for the team and help us win.”
He scored on a two-out single by Willie Argo, and after Narvaez singled Argo to third, the University of Illinois product came home on a single by Darryl George.
Toles signed late with the Rays, and had to work to get his chance.
“You do have to earn it, when I first got here they had me on the bench and just waiting around,” Toles said. “When I got my opportunity I wanted to come out here and show them what I can do.”
Bluefield answered to tie the score at 2-2 after Christian Lopes singled and Dwight Smith, Jr. hit a shot that Daniel Duran dived for and made the play at third, but threw the ball past first base. Lopes continued to run and would have been out at home, but the ball was knocked out Narvaez’s glove at home plate. Smith kept running and also scored when the ball got away.
Not a problem for the Rays. James Harris Jr. reached on a one-out single, sped to third on an infield groundout and Toles followed with a two-out RBI single to right field.
“He is a good player,” said Johns, of Toles, who raised his batting average to .358. “He has got all five tools and you are going to see him do that probably the rest of the season.”
Reid Redman followed with a long home run over the left field fence for the 5-2 lead.
“Daniel had some really good stuff in the bullpen and it just didn’t transfer out on the field,” Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said. “He made some tough mistakes with some pitches, but a very competitive ball game, a tough ball game to lose. I like the way we have played the last two nights.”
Bluefield fought back, with Eric Arce drawing a one-out walk, Dickie Joe Thon reached on another Duran error and Matt Dean broke out of a slump with a two-run triple to the left field fence. Jacob Anderson, who has also struggled at the plate, followed with a single to left to the tie the score at 5-5.
Dean joined Art Charles with two hits for Bluefield. Anderson narrowly missed a game-tying home run that curved foul in the ninth.
“I liked what I saw out of both of those guys, they have struggled to start the season, but that is one of the reasons we play here,” said Holmberg, who pointed out that both Dean and Anderson are still adjusting to professional baseball after signing late and not playing last summer. “If they can maintain those swings they had tonight it is encouraging and I was pleased and happy to see tonight what they did with the bats.”
That would be it for the Blue Jays, which threatened with two runners on and one out in the seventh, but couldn’t score off Sawyer, who combined with Butler to retire the final seven batters in the game.
“They did a nice job, it was Kirsch’s first outing in professional baseball so that was fun to watch him, and then obviously Sawyer has been good for us all year and Butler has too,” Johns said. “They did a really nice job, my hats are off to them.”
Princeton stuck Julio Carmona (0-2) with the loss in the sixth when Narvaez brought home Redman with a double. The Rays had just two baserunners from that point, but that proved to be enough.
“There have been two really good games obviously with two really good teams that want to win obviously,” Johns said. “I am proud of our guys battling last night, we battled to the last out, we had runners on first and second and one out and a chance to win the game.”
The Rays, who started the season with records of 4-0 and 5-1, were able to stay above .500 by snapping a two-game skid.
“We keep teetering at it, it would be nice to win a couple of stay over .500, but as long as we battle every night I am fine,” said Johns, whose Rays were led at the plate by Toles and Narvaez with two hits apiece. “We battle hard, we play hard and the guys are getting better and that is the name of the game.”
Bluefield, which has worked its way out of the cellar in the East Division, will host Princeton again tonight in the third of five straight games in the Mercer Cup series. The first pitch is slated for 7 p.m.
“The players are fully aware,” Holmberg said. “Obviously it is a small little competition of 11 games that you play and right now we are ‘Even Steven’.
“We have nine games to go so it is the best of nine.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Bowen Field
Princeton.....................230 010 000 — 6 8 4
Bluefield.......................200 300 000 — 5 7 1
Eli Echarry, Christopher Kirsch (5), Nick Sawyer (7), Zach Butler (9) and Omar Narvaez. Daniel Norris, Julio Carmona (5), Brandon Dorsett (8) and Santiago Nessy. W—Kirsch (1-0); L—Carmona (0-2); S—Butler (5). HR—Reid Redman (2). Time—2:35. Att—887.