Sox outlast Twins

By Allen LaMountain

   In sports the margin of victory and defeat, as well as being a hero or a goat, is razor thin.
   Elizabethton Twins designated hitter Doug Deeds knows that all too well as he left the bases loaded in the last of the 12th frame, and opened the door for Bristol's four-run 13th that handed 'Betsy a 6-2 loss on Monday night at Joe O'Brien Field.
   "In that situation you look for maximum matchup, and we had it with Deeds," said Twins manager Ray Smith, whose club fell one game behind the White Sox for first place in the Appalachian League's West Division. "Turns out the guy made a great pitch at the right time and rang him up.
   "There's still a lot of baseball to play. We're one game down, and I think we need to make a point (tomorrow) that we can play with these guys."
   'Betsy has dropped two in a row to Bristol, and Sox outfielder Darren Ciraco think that his team's win on Monday sent a message to the Twins.
   "I think we did," Ciraco said. "We needed a big win on the road and we got it, even though we struggled at times. Tomorrow will be the biggest game of the series."
   It will also be the last game between the two rivals for the season. If the two teams end in a tie for first, the initial tiebreaker is head-to-head play, and a Twins win would clinch the season series 5-3, giving 'Betsy the tie-breaker.
   Ryan Smith got a rare start and performed capably, surrendering two runs on four hits in four and one-third frames. Smith struck out four, but also walked four -- including two free passes in the fifth that allowed the Sox to take a 2-1 lead and seal his fate.
   'Betsy led after two innings on Garret Guzman's two-out single and a double to right-center by Scott Whitrock, and Smith was having success in the early going, mixing in a good fastball with his amazing curve.
   In the fifth, though, Smith's control failed him and he walked both Seth Morris and Brendan Bounds to open the stanza. Chris Stewart sacrificed both runners over, then Bo Ivy's RBI base knock tied the game at 1-1.
   Lefty reliever Nick Niedbalski came on for Smith at this point with Bristol runners at the corners, and Anthony Webster greeted Niedbalski with an RBI single that gave the Sox the lead.
   Niedbalski once again pitched well, going two and one-third relief innings, with no runs allowed on one hit.
   Elizabethton tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth when Trent Oeltjen ripped a one-out double to center and Felix Molina delivered him with a solid single to center, but that would be the last anyone would see either teams' offense for quite some time as the relief pitching from Bristol and Elizabethton was stellar.
   Pat Neshek and Joshua Hill retired the next 13 Bristol hitters before a single by Sox third baseman Edgar Varela ended the string. In that string, Neshek and Hill combined to strike out eight Bristol batters, with each fanning four.
   The Sox bullpen was less spectacular but just as effective with Garrron McGary, Adam Larson and B.J. Lamura blanking the Twins the rest of the way, though it was shaky at best sometimes.
   Elizabethton had golden opportunities go by the boards in the ninth, 10th and 12th frames, but couldn't get the key hit.
   'Betsy stranded six men combined in the three innings of futility, with the granddaddy of them all coming in the 12th.
   Edgardo LeBron opened the frame by reaching on an error by Sox shortstop Andy Gonzalez, and Sandy Hiraldo singled to left to put runners on first and second.
   Oeltjen successfully sacrificed both runners up and Molina was intentionally passed to bring the hot-hitting Deeds to the plate.
   In the Sunday twin-bill, Deeds had gone 4-for-6 with three doubles and a homer, and had singled earlier in this contest, so Twins fans were highly optimistic for a victory here.
   Sox manager Nick Leyva then employed the strategy that the Kansas City Royals had unsuccessfully tried to work against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, bringing an outfielder into the infield as an extra fielder.
   "It's a good strategy, and really you have to take a chance in that situation," Leyva said. "A fly ball beats you anyway, so why not cut down the chance of an infield hit? I told Lamura that we needed a ground ball, and he gets a big strikeout. After that we thought that it was our game now."
   It turned out to be so as the Sox -- given a new life -- scored four runs on four hits and a big Twins error to take the rubber game of a the three-game set in Elizabethton 2-1.
   Ciraco doubled home Pedro Lopez, who reached on Sam Taylor's miscue, and after an intentional pass to Varela, Morris, Tom Brice and Stewart each had consecutive RBI singles against Hill (0-1) to take a 6-2 lead for the Sox.
   Lamura then struck out the side in the last of the 13th as 'Betsy seemed stunned by the turn of events.
   The two teams meet again tonight, this time in Bristol.