K-Mets batter Victor Cruzado (17) heads for first after tripling during Tuesday’s playoff game against the Greeneville Astros in Kingsport. Cruzado scored when a third strike got away from Astros catcher Brian Holberton, left. (Ned Jilton II photo)
KINGSPORT — Down to their last strike Tuesday night, the Greeneville Astros exploded for five runs in the top of the ninth inning to rally for a 7-3 win over Kingsport in the third and deciding game of the Appalachian League’s West Division playoffs at Hunter Wright Stadium.
Greeneville lost the opening game of the playoffs to the K-Mets but came back to win the final two games and the series. The Astros host East Division pennant winner Pulaski on Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Appy League championship series.
The K-Mets, who won the West Division regular-season crown, went up 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth when a sliding Yeixon Ruiz scored against Greeneville catcher on a sacrifice fly by Jeff McNeil.
Kingsport’s Ricardo Jacquez, who came on in the seventh in relief of starter Robert Whalen, got a groundout to open the top of the ninth for the first out.
But the Astros’ Ariel Ovando hit a soft flyball down the line in left field and raced all the way to second. Marc Wik came in to pinch-run for Ovando and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
Jacquez struck out Thomas Lindauer for the second out and had two strikes on Brett Phillips. But Phillips stroked a double that drove home Wik with the tying run.
From there the floodgates opened.
An intentional walk put men on first and second, and back-to-back singles were followed by a double from the Astros’ Chase McDonald and suddenly the score was 7-3.
Greeneville reliever Raul Rivera set the K-Mets down in order in the ninth.
“This is why baseball is so unpredictable,” said K-Mets manager Jose Leger.
“Our guys are sad right now, but I’m so proud of the season they had.”