The Kingsport Mets continued to keep pace in their battle with Elizabethton for an Appalachian League playoff spot with an impressive 7-4 win over West Division leader Johnson City on Tuesday at Hunter Wright Stadium. The win kept the K-Mets (30-24) tied with the Twins for second place in the West after Elizbethton (30-24) downed Bristol 5-1 on Tuesday.
Timely hitting and another stellar performance from the bullpen allowed Kingsport to beat the Cardinals (26-18) for the fourth straight time. Trailing 2-0 going into the bottom of the third inning, the K-Mets exploded for six runs to take control of the game. Jeffrey Glenn got the rally started with a one-out single to left field. Yucary De La Cruz added another single before Juan Gamboa’s double drove in Kingsport’s first run. Two more singles, another double and an error sent five more runs across the plate before Johnson City could retire the side.
“Once again, the big inning was in our favor,’’ said Kingsport manager Frank Fultz. “It’s fun to compete against Johnson City. They are so well coached.”
The Cardinals struck back in the top of the sixth, narrowing their deficit to 6-4 after a two-run blast by designated hitter Roberto De La Cruz. Brian Valenzuela replaced K-Mets starter Jacob Lugo in the top of the sixth and quieted the Johnson City bats. Kingsport’s De La Cruz smacked his first home run of the season in the bottom of the sixth and the K-Mets had all the runs they needed to subdue the Cards.
“We just couldn’t stop the bleeding in the third inning,’’ said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “Our relief pitchers did a good job after that inning, but the damage was done.’’
Kingsport center fielder Tillman Pugh made a spectacular play in the seventh, racing to the wall and making a leaping grab of a ball destined to be a extra-base hit.
“I didn’t think he had a chance on that ball,” Fultz said. “But he has pure natural speed and made a big-time play.’’
In the eighth, K-Mets third baseman Dustin Lawley made back-to-back putouts on hard-hit balls, one of which he knocked down with his chest.
“I just tried to keep those grounders in front of me so I could make the play,’’ Lawley said. “We’re clicking right now both on and off the field. Those are the type of plays we have to make in order to stay in the playoff race.’’
De La Cruz went 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI for the K-Mets. Lawley added two hits, scored a run and an RBI. The squads continue the series tonight in Johnson City.