Twins don't lose quietly

By Ivan Sanders
STAR STAFF
isanders@starhq.com

   If opening night for the Elizabethton Twins is any indication of what the rest season has in store for the E-Twin faithful, everyone had better bring an ample supply of heart medicine and seat belts.
   On Elizabethton STAR Family Night, where over 1,000 fans attended the game free, the Bristol White Sox's began defense of its 2002 Appy League title by paying a visit to the Carmen Dugger Sports Complex and take a thrilling 10-8 win.
   "We try to stress to these guys that baseball is a nine-inning game and you have to play hard from the start of the game to the end," said E-Twins manager Ray Smith. "I was proud of the pitchers who worked the middle innings, holding a good hitting team like Bristol scoreless so we would have an opportunity to come back."
   Bristol got things rolling in the top of the first inning as Robert Valido drew a walk with one out. Leonardo Luna then laced a single to right field that put runners at the corners.
   Cesar Castillo enticed Twin pitcher Dennis Medina into another walk to load the bases for Sox left fielder Manuel Rodrigues. Rodrigues slapped a broken-bat grounder to Twins third baseman Brock Peterson, who managed to force out Castillo at second with Felix Molina's attempt at first sailing into the Twin dugout.
   Two Bristol runners crossed the plate, giving the Sox a quick 2-0 lead. The Twins went quietly in the bottom of the inning with the score remaining 2-0.
   Bristol wasted little time picking up where they left off in the first. Medina was rocked for four runs on four hits, including RBI doubles from Michael Bohlander and Luna to place the Sox in a comfortable 6-0 lead after one and a half innings of play.
   Elizabethton's Brock Peterson worked starting Sox pitcher Tim Tisch for a full-count walk after one out in the bottom of the first. The lanky southpaw pitcher from Santee, Cal., making just his first start after 14 relief appearances at Phoenix last season, worked quickly to put out the Twins' threat as right fielder Ryan Spataro grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the frame.
   Eric Brandon replaced Medina in the top of the third and found the Sox as kind to him as they were to Medina. Bristol kept the official scoring busy turning over runs on the board as they picked up three more runs on three hits to push the lead to 9-0.
   The big hit of the inning was a two-run dinger by Sox right fielder Eddie Young, picking up Melvin Perez who had walked ahead of him.
   Elizabethton notched its first hit and first run of the 2003 season in the bottom of the third. Shortstop J.R. Taylor walked and advanced to second on center fielder Denard Span's single.
   Molina lofted a ball to center that the Sox fielder lost in the lights, allowing the ball to drop and Taylor to touch the dish. After three complete, the score remained in Bristol's favor 9-1.
   The fourth inning was the first scoreless inning, although the Twins managed to load the bases on a Dusty Gomon leadoff double to left-center and consecutive walks to Spataro and Josh Johnson.
   Taylor lined a Tisch offering to right field that was corralled and sent to the plate. Castillo caught Spataro hung up between second and third. On the run-down attempt, Gomon broke from home, but was nailed by Robert Valido from short for out number three.
   Aside from pitching changes from both teams, the fifth inning was relatively quite. Demetrius Banks came on for Tisch, who was on a limited pitch count, and Josh Gray took the hill for the Twins as both managers were looking out for their youthful pitchers on the heavy, overcast night.
   After holding Bristol to its first three-up and three-down inning, the E-Twins put on a rally that Rocky Balboa would have been proud of. Elizabethton pulled itself off the deck and plated five runs to pull within 9-6 on three hits and a Sox's error.
   The top three batters in the Twins lineup -- Span, Molina and Kyle Phillips did the damage with three consecutive doubles to account for four RBIs.
   A greater pitcher effort from Evan Meek kept the bats silent for Bristol in the top of the seventh inning as Meek recorded three strikeouts, giving the E-Twins another opportunity to pull even closer.
   "I was a little nervous at first, but it was great to get my first professional outing that I was really happy with," said the hard-throwing Meek. "It's tough to come back against any team that gets a big lead.
   Added Meek: "This is a focused team and everyone is ready to do their jobs. We just came up a little short tonight."
   Draw closer they did as Peterson walked and Sparato singled to put runners at first and second. A groundball out by Josh Johnson advanced the runners 90 feet, giving the E-Twin faithful a little more hope.
   Taylor didn't disappoint as he ripped a single to score both runners and pull Elizabethton within 9-8. The Twins looked poised to take the lead as they loaded the bases, but Phillips grounded a lazy ball to third that Perez handled and tagged out pinch runner Kyle Geiger for the third out of the inning.
   Bristol got a big insurance run in the top of the eighth inning. Chris Young crushed a triple to right field and scored on a single by Valido giving the Sox a 10-8 edge.
   Gomon collected his second double of the game in the bottom of the eighth and Spataro walked, but the E-Twins were left stranded still trailing 10-8.
   After Levale Speigner did his job from the mound in holding the visiting team from Bristol scoreless in the top of the ninth, Elizabethton had one last shot.
   Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be on opening night as Bristol withstood the furious late innings rally by the E-Twins to take win number one on the season. Banks was credited with the win on the mound while Medina was given the loss.
   "The players were a little nervous in the earlier innings so it was good to get this first game under our belts," said fan-favorite Gomon. "We were happy to come back the way we did and fell just a little short, but that's O.K. We'll see what we can do with the Mets in our next game."
   The Twins will travel to Hunter-Wright Stadium tonight to face off against the Mets in Kingsport.