KINGSPORT — Baseball still comes down to solid pitching, timely hitting, opportunistic base running and solid defense.
Kingsport got all four Thursday night in a 6-3 Appalachian League win over visiting Johnson City at Hunter Wright Stadium.
It marked the K-Mets’ 11th win in their last 13 games. With the victory, Kingsport (25-15) moved within 1 1/2 games of West Division leader Greeneville (26-13). The Astros were idle on Thursday night after their game against Bristol was rained out.
The Cardinals got off to a quick start, scoring two runs in the first inning off K-Mets’ ace Chris Flexen.
Kingsport responded with single runs in both the first and second innings to tie the game at 2-2.
In the bottom of the fifth, the K-Mets’ Jeff Diehl lined a two-out single to right field. He advanced to second on a ground out and then scored when Pedro Perez singled to right.
Flexen didn’t have his best stuff, but managed to strand Johnson City runners in scoring position in both the third and sixth innings.
“My location was terrible tonight,” said Flexen, who improved to 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA. “I just tried to battle my way through it and let my defense get the job done.”
Needing some insurance heading into the late innings, Kingsport came up big in the bottom of the seventh.
Victor Cruzado got the K-Mets going with a double to left field. Diehl walked.
A strikeout followed and then Cruzado advanced to third on a wild pitch.
Perez hit a high pop-up to the infield that dropped in. Johnson City shortstop Kenneth Peoples-Walls fielded the ball and threw to second, forcing Diehl out at second for the second out.
Amed Rosario came to the plate and struck out swinging for what should have been the third out.
But the ball got away from Cardinals’ catcher Rowan Wick and Rosario was safe at first as Cruzado raced home to make the score 4-2.
Zach Mathieu then singled driving in Perez. Rosario raced around to third and alertly dashed home when the throw from the outfield came in slow to second base.
When the inning finally ended, the K-Mets were comfortably on top 6-2.
“That was heads up base running by Rosario,” said K-Mets’ manager Jose Leger. “Mathieu hit that ball hard and that got things going.
“In the end, it’s the little things that win baseball games,” added Leger. “These guys are battling on every at-bat. They are capable of overcoming anything.”
Flexen scattered eight hits, struck out one, walked one and allowed two earned runs.
After Johnson City scored a run in the top of the ninth, K-Mets reliever Ricardo Jacquez came in with two outs, two men on base and the tying run at the plate.
He struck out the only batter he faced for his fifth save. Cruzado, Mathieu and Champ Stuart had two hits apiece for Kingsport.
The K-Mets will host the Cardinals again tonight. The first pitch is scheduled for 7 o’clock.