Game 1 sees Astros slip past Twins


Photo by David Boyd
Elizabethton catcher Josh Johnson tags out Martinsville's Winfield Garcia in the first inning.

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
It was a tough loss for the Twins in their Game 1 matchup with Martinsville in the Appalachian League championship series, with Martinsville taking a 4-3 win over Elizabethton at Joe O'Brien Field on Tuesday night.
After battling back to load the bases with no outs in the final inning, Elizabethton squandered its come-from-behind opportunity by going three and out.
"It unfolded perfectly for us and all we had to do was put the ball in play," said Twins manager Ray Smith. "You're going to get only so many chances when you load the bases, but they made some pretty good pitches, and you can't leave people on base and get nothing from it."
The series continues tonight in Martinsville, where Elizabethton will try to force a third and deciding contest.
The Twins started off the first frame facing a runner at third base, after Winfield Garcia smacked a lead-off single to right field.
A walk to Saul Torres and a wild-pitch from Evan Meek allowed Garcia to advance to third looking for a chance to grab an early score.
A grounder to the first baseman, Dusty Gomon, and throw to Josh Johnson at home plate resulted in a tag out, with Garcia trying to beat the toss.
"We had our chance to score early in the game, but we couldn't score that many runs," said Astros manager Jorge Orta. "This is a big plus for us because Elizabethton is one of the better teams, and I know it isn't easy to beat them, so I'm really pleased we could win this first game."
Both teams were solid on defense in the first three innings, then in the top of the fourth Elizabethton scored the first run of the night after connecting on a couple of hits.
A double to right center field from Phillips placed him in scoring position, and a line shot past the shortstop from Brock Peterson drove the runner home.
The Astros tied the contest in the top of the fifth, after a couple of throwing errors were committed by the Twins infielders.
A grounder went to the third baseman Peterson, who elected to get the force out at second but overthrew the shortstop, who was covering.
The ball was picked up by second baseman Angelo Fermin, who made a throw to third, but the ball sailed past into the Astros' dugout to allow Hamilton Sarabia to score.
"We were trying to throw the guy out at third base instead of keeping him cut off and the double-play in order, and we didn't keep the ball in front of us and it skips into the dugout to score a run," said Smith.
The Astros were threatening to score again, but a nice play and throw from the shortstop, J.R. Taylor, to Gomon at first, and then a toss home produced the double play and helped Elizabethton escape the frame.
Elizabethton was able to get back its one-run advantage in the bottom of the sixth, when Phillips led off with a single, followed by a walk to Gomon, and another base hit coming from Ron Perodin to load the bases.
"I had a good approach going to the plate, and I got some pretty good pitches to hit," said Phillips. "I came up with some hits and sparked a few rallies, but unfortunately we came out on the bottom tonight."
Peterson came to the plate to hit a fielder's choice to the shortstop, which enabled Phillips to score.
Things were going pretty well for the Twins pitcher Meek until the top of the seventh, when a three-run homer from Lance Koeing gave the Astros a 4-2 lead.
"Both teams were playing good, and we couldn't seem to get anything going, then I got one lucky shot and that was the difference," said Koeing.
Meek walked the first batter Kevin Vital, then a bunt from Kevin Davidson was played by the catcher Johnson, who decided to try the force out at second but was unsuccessful.
Koeing came to the plate with one out to smack a three-run homer off a breaking-ball pitch from Meek.
"I got a good pitch to hit and put my best swing on it, and luckily I hit it well and it went out," said Koeing.
Eric Brandon came in to replace Meek for the next inning and two thirds, as the Twins never surrendered another hit the rest of the night.
Martinsville brought in Ryan McKeller for Mitch Talbot, who had pitched the first six innings for the Astros.
McKeller was unable to make the last through the seventh, as a hit batter and three walks brought a run to the plate, with Denard Span crossing to pull Elizabethton to within one.
Levi Romero got his chance to finish out the seventh and eighth frames on the mound for Martinsville, and immediate success was seen with a strikeout to Peterson to get the Astros out of the frame.
Brandon retired all three hitters during the top of the eighth for Elizabethton by strikeout, while Julio DePaula came out in the ninth to finish out the game.
The Twins had one opportunity left to make something happen in their time at bat, and it appeared that they were going to find the magic to do so.
A lead-off line drive to left field from Span started the rally for the Twins and a walk to Fermin placed runners on first and second with no outs.
Phillips came to the plate, connecting on his third hit of the evening with a shot to right field.
"Sometimes things happen that shouldn't, and then there's times that things shouldn't happen but do," said Phillips. "Anytime you get bases loaded with no outs, then you're expected to score."
The hit from Phillips loaded the bases for the Twins, who were faced with no outs and just needed to put the ball in play for the tying run to score.
"That's the way it goes sometimes, and the breaks didn't go for us, so I guess that's just part of the game of baseball. You win some and lose some," said Phillips.
Raymar Diaz got the call at the mound for the Astros in the final frame, which seemed to be a disaster starting out, with the Twins just one play away from creating a new ball game.
Diaz battled back, causing Gomon and Perodin to chase after high fast balls, thus grabbing two quick outs and not letting Elizabethton capitalize on its excellent scoring opportunity.
"There at the end we had the bases loaded and our pitching did the job and came through for us, and that was the difference for us," said Orta.
Peterson was the last batter at the plate for the Twins, as he popped up to the first-baseman Vital, who nearly dropped over the infield fly by overrunning the play.
Tonight the Twins try to keep the Astros from taking the title.
"It's a little deflating right now, but we've got two hosses ready, with the left hander Errol Simonitch (tonight), and Chris Schutt waiting in the wings," Smith said. "So pitching wise we're all right."