Twins bring Card to halt, regain first place

By Marvin Birchfield
star staff

  The Elizabethton Twins moved back to a half-game lead over Johnson City in the Appalachian League Western Division after ending the Cardinals' eight-game win streak in a 3-0 final Tuesday night at Joe O'Brien Field.
  It was the Twins' second shutout on the year, as Twins pitcher Alexander Smit threw for a whopping 11 strikeouts through seven innings.
  Smit started off the contest by retiring the first two batters on strike-outs.
  "I stuck with my gameplan and pitched outside a lot, and then when I fell behind I came back with the change-up," said Smit. "This puts us back in first-place. It was a pretty important game, so I'm glad I did well."
  The 6-3 left-hander gave up his first of six hits on the evening to Tony Grandadillo, who doubled to right-center field, but a fly-out to second from Sandy Diaz ended the frame.
  "We've been on a good streak this season, and I think we can keep it going," said Smit. "We've got a lot of good hitters and pitching, so we definitely got a good shot of winning the league again this season."
  David Winfree captured the first hit for Elizabethton in the bottom of the second on a shot to shallow center, but a hit into a double play ended the Twins' scoring opportunity, as they had runners positioned on first and second base with one out.
  The Twins came through in the bottom of the fourth after a couple of hits from Jeremy Pickrel and Javier Sanchez set up a scoring opportunity.
  A couple of key mistakes from the Cardinal infield allowed both runners to score, with Pickrel coming home on an error at third base and a wild-pitch, which brought in Sanchez.
  In Smit's last inning on the mound, he showed signs of getting stronger rather than fading.
  "It was pretty impressive to watch a young Mr. Smit mix it up and change speeds," said Twins manager Ray Smith. "He was better in the seventh inning than he was in the first six, because he saved a little velo (velocity) for that last inning, throwing 88-90 as opposed to throwing around 86 for most of the game."
  Strike-outs to Chad Gabriel and Brandon Yarbrough brought Samuel Herbert to the plate, and Herbert connected on an infield hit down the third-base line.
  After an error on a throw to first, Herbert rounded his way to second, but Smit was not about to be rattled, collecting his third strikeout of the inning to Simon Williams.
  "He showed signs of an experienced pitcher, saving a little bit in the tank when you need it," said Smith. "He was getting ahead of the running fast ball, and he mixed in a few breaking balls with change-ups to keep them off-speed."
  Elizabethton added a run in the bottom of the seventh, with Javier Lopez leading off with a bunt toward third. Lopez, who led the Twins in hitting by going 2-for-4, eventually came around to score on a one hopper toward second from Terrance Patterson.
  "I'm glad to be able to put the bat on the ball and make contact to put the ball in play," said Lopez. "We had won seven in a row and lost, but hopefully now we can start a new streak and get eight wins in a row and keep going."
  Jonathan Martinez came into relieve Smit to start the eighth frame, then the right-hander Frank Mata worked the ninth for his seventh save on the season.
  Das Jesson managed to get on base for the Cardinals in the last inning, after a wild pitch on the third strike enabled him to reach first.
  A grounder from Chad Gabriel to second-baseman Luke Hughes resulted in a tag, with Jesson heading to second and throw to first for the game ending double-play.
  Elizabethton (18-10) will take on Johnson City (18-11) on Wednesday at 7 o'clock in their second meeting of a three-game home series against the Cardinals.
  "We're not even at halftime yet, so we'll keep using that consistent approach we use everyday -- work hard, play every inning tough, every pitcher having a plan with every pitch he throws, and winning the first and second inning to let the opposing team know they're in a battle with us," said Smith.