K-Mets slugger Victor Cruzado points to the sky after crossing home plate following his solo home run in the first inning against the Greeneville Astros on Monday night in Kingsport. (Ned Jilton II photo)
KINGSPORT — Jonathan Leroux has been “the man” in more than one clutch situation for the Kingsport Mets this season.
Thanks to Greeneville pitcher J.D. Osborne, Leroux was almost the man Monday night.
With two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Astros left-hander struck out Leroux for the 3-2 Greeneville win and Osborne’s fifth save of the season.
“Osborne has thrown the ball really well. He attacks the hitters and he has a lot of movement and a lot of deception. He’s been really good for us the last three times he’s pitched,” said Greeneville manager Josh Bonifay, who trotted out Osborne in the eighth.
The win fell to Astros reliever Christian Garcia (2-1), who took over for starter Sebastian Kessay with two outs in the third. Kessay had just whiffed two consecutive K-Mets batters but was on a strict pitch count.
Leroux pinch-hit for Bradley Marquez, who had legged out a bunt single against Osborne in the eighth. But the Kingsport outfielder’s speed could only do so much with Jeff Diehl and Pedro Perez on base ahead of him.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound first baseman broke his bat in disgust after striking out to end the game. K-Mets manager Jose Leger said Leroux was unquestionably the man for the situation.
“Any time you have a one-run game, it’s an exciting game. There’s a lot of strategy going on,” Leger said. “We put the tying run on second base and the winning run on first. We gave ourselves a chance. Our guys battled and I’m proud of them.”
Victor Cruzado, a .389 hitter who was named the Appalachian League offensive player of the week, led the K-Mets. The 21-year-old Dominican went 2-for-3, including his first-inning solo shot near the Times-News sign in left.
Diehl, who got on base in the ninth on a third-strike wild pitch, doubled in the seventh. He reached third on a passed ball and scored on Ritchie Rodriguez’s groundout to pull Kingsport to within a run.
K-Mets starter Martires Arias (0-4) had his best night so far.
A two-out error at shortstop preceded Chase McDonald’s two-run homer in the first inning. Arias allowed a Brett Phillips double in the third, and he scored on a Tanner Mathis single for a 3-1 lead. The 6-7 pitcher kept opportunity alive with four shutout frames after that.
The K-Mets had flashes of defensive brilliance and turned two double plays. Center fielder Champ Stuart had two putout throws from center field, including a DP throw to catcher Jeyckol De Leon that nailed Ariel Ovado at the plate.
“He’s still got a lot to learn in the outfield. He’s only going to get better. He has speed, a good arm ... and he listens,” Leger said.