Strike zone, victory elude Twins

By Rebecca Pierson
Assistant Sports Editor
rpierson@starhq.com

  Free hot dogs and free admission were offered to those in attendance Thursday night at Riverside Park. What Twins fans saw was the Johnson City Cardinals (20-11) clicking their red heels together like Dorothy in Oz in the first two innings and said, "There is no place like home plate."
  The Twins (18-12) took another offensive beating from the Cards in an 8-1 decision, with the Cards taking the series 2-1.
  Take away the six runs in the first two frames, and they only lost 2-1.
  "They had pretty hot sticks out there," Twins shortstop Trevor Plouffe said. "They are on a tear. When they get up there with a seven-run lead, it is hard to bounce back."
  Those first two innings were brutal. Evan Meek was on the mound for the Twins when Jose Delgado, who leads the league in on-base percentage, popped a fly and Meek made the quick reflex for the catch.
  Juan Lucena got the free pass to first and Brandon Yarbrough sent a single up to second. Then, off a wild pitch, both runners advanced. From there came another wild pitch, and both runners went to home, with Lucena scoring a run, but Yarbrough would get tagged out by Javier Lopez. Sandy Diaz would strike out for the third out.
  The Twins would get one on in the bottom of the first but couldn't advance him.
  Meek would start the second inning by loading the bases with walks. He would strike out Billy Becher, but walked both Michael Miller and Delgado for two runs.
  Chris Marini relieved Meek and Lucena sent a hit up center field for two RBIs. Yarbrough sent a grounder to second for an RBI while being thrown out. Diaz sent a fly way out into right field, but Deacon Burns got under it for the third out.
  The Twins picked up some offensive drive in the bottom of the second. Javier Lopez sent a single up the third-base line. David Winfree sent a grounder up second, but the Cards pushed out a double play to clear the field.
  Jay Yaconetti sent a single to the shortstop and Johnny Woodard pushed a single between second and first. Luke Hughes then grounded up the middle but was thrown out.
  In the top of the seventh, Johnson City had a home run and two singles to open up the frame. Das Jesson attempted to load the bases when the Twins pulled out a double play. Jesson grounded to Yaconetti at third. He tagged Yarbrough running, then made the throw to Luke Hughes at second to force Diaz out.
  The Cards had two more double plays, one in the third and another in the fourth. The Twins would finally get a run on the board in the fifth with a home run by Tarrence Patterson over left-center field.
  "This is only my second day here but I heard good things about [Johnson City] coming in here," closing pitcher Kevin Culpepper said. "It just happens sometimes -- you have bad luck. Some days you're just not on."
  Culpepper was with the club last year.
  Eric Haberer (1-2) got the win for the Cards. He allowed eight hits, one run and one error on six innings. Meek took the loss with one hit for six runs, six errors and six walks.
  Yaconetti lead the Twins in batting, going 2-for-3. Both Plouffe and Burns both went 2-for-4. Patterson, Lopez and Woodard all had one hit a piece.
  Yarbrough lead Johnson City going 3-for-4. Lucena went 2-for-3 for two runs, and Chad Gabriel went 1-for-3 and had two runs.
  "We have been trying to chase these guys for the past for four years," Cardinals manager Tommy Kidwell said. "The have another good team this year. We know they are not going away.
  "They are going to be there all the way to the end," he said. "They have a great coaching staff. They play good baseball, so we feel lucky to win two out of three here."
  The Twins will now host Bristol (11-20) over the weekend. Bristol is coming off an 0-3 series at Greeneville.
   "We played good defense, but we will be back this weekend," Plouffe said. "Bristol gave us a hard time earlier in the season. Our sticks are hot too though, so we'll come out swinging."