'Betsy gets back on track

By Allen LaMountain
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
alamountain@starhq.com

   The three elements needed to play winning baseball resurfaced at Joe O'Brien Field on Tuesday night as the Elizabethton Twins halted a three game slide with a 4-1 victory over Pulaski. The elements of pitching, hitting and defense were in ample supply as starter Nick Blackburn hurled six solid innings, giving up just one run on six scattered hits.
   "It all starts with pitching. That was the key to the day," said Twins manager Ray Smith. "There's no big mystery how to win in this game. Quality pitching, timely hits and play defense. I liked Blackburn's attack mentality out there. He worked quickly and he forced the issue."
   The hitting was supplied by Dusty Gomon and Garrett Guzman who knocked in three of Betsy's four runs between them, and the defense also stood out, with third baseman Edgardo LeBron making several sparkling plays in the field and right fielder Michael Sims also making a dandy catch to prevent a Pulaski rally.
   Blackburn rebounded after a shaky first outing in Johnson City, in which he went just three and one-third frames, to record his first win of the season. Blackburn retired the first eight Pulaski hitters he faced before Orlando Cruz reached on an infield hit.
   "After that first time out there I wasn't sure how it was going to go," said Blackburn. "I had to try and figure out a way to get people out. In Johnson City they sat on my fastball, so tonight I wanted to establish getting my changeup over. My slurve was on tonight, and that's always been a good pitch for me. I throw it hard."
   The Twins pounced hard on Rangers' starting pitcher Andrew Tisdale, with three runs in the opening stanza. Trent Oeltjen reached on an error by Pulaski second baseman Reinaldo Hidalgo, and Peter Martinez dropped down a perfect bunt that went for a hit, putting runners on first and second.
   Guzman -- who was a doubles machine for the GCL Twins last season -- ripped his third two-bagger of the season off the left field fence, which plated both Oeltjen and Martinez, to give Betsy a two-run lead.
   Gomon rapped to second to move Guzman to third, and Guzman scooted homeward moments later when Tisdale uncorked a wild pitch, giving the Twins a three to nothing lead.
   What had looked like a Betsy cakewalk, got somewhat stressful however, as the Ranger bullpen came to Tisdale's rescue in the fourth and completely shut the door on the Twins.
   Guzman delivered his fourth double of the season in the third off Tisdale, but Tisdale recovered to keep Betsy off the scoreboard as Gomon's line drive smash to left was snagged off the shoe tops by Cruz.
   Cruz' relay throw to second caught Guzman napping as he was halfway to third on the play. Guzman finished the day two-for-four, with two RBI.
   "Guzman hit a couple of nail drivers tonight," said Smith. "He's very efficient with his swing. He keeps it compact and that allows him to wait a little longer on the breaking stuff."
   Pulaski struck for its run in the fourth with Nate Gold delivering a two-out single that plated Charlie Bilezikjian, who had led off the frame with a single to right. Blackburn got a big strikeout in the frame when he fanned Rangers cleanup hitter Rich Carroll with a nasty slurve.
   Carroll came into the contest with a .467 average, on seven hits in 15 at-bats, to go along with a team-high six ribbies, and whiffing him in that situation proved big as Blackburn didn't allow the big inning that has plagued Betsy all season to develop.
   "My hat is off to them tonight," said Pulaski manager Pedro Lopez. "Their pitcher threw a good game and we never could get a rally started. We didn't take advantage of our opportunities. It's a tough loss, but that's baseball."
   Pulaski relievers Jason Andrew and Robert Corrado combined to stonewall Betsy until the ninth, retiring 12 consecutive Twins (with a walk to Sam Taylor in the mix) before the Twins struck for an insurance run in the eighth.
   Martinez again dropped down a bunt, this time to the shortstop side of the mound, and beat it out for his second base knock of the game. After Martinez stole second, Gomon delivered him with a sharp single to left to increase his league-leading total to 13, and give him a team-high eight RBI.
   "I've been working on keeping my hands inside," Gomon commented. "I see a lot of inside pitches, which I like, and I want to try to take it the other way. In extended spring we were just all over everybody, and I think the team is coming together. Blackburn got ahead of the hitters tonight which keeps you on your toes, and keeps your head in the game."
   Blackburn struck out five and walked none as he showed great competitiveness in coming back so strong from a poor first outing.
   E-Twins notes: While the Twins did not have an error-free game, the one miscue they did make didn't come back to haunt them. Guzman raised his average to .258, but of his eight hits on the year four have been doubles. Martinez showed great bat control with two bunt singles, but also showed the most speed we have seen since Ricky Manning and James Tomlin last season. Tim Henkenjohann (1-0, 1.80 ERA) is slated to start for 'Betsy tonight.