BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
Two-time defending Appalachian League champion Johnson City has left no doubt that they are still in the hunt to grab another baseball title.
The Cardinals moved into a tie for second place in the league Monday night by sweeping the homestanding Greeneville Astros in a twin-bill, 8-2 and 5-1, leaving each team 5 1/2 games behind West Division leading Elizabethton. The top two teams in both of the Appy League's divisions qualify for the post-season playoffs.
The Astros now must hit the road for six games, starting with a three-game set at Pulaski tonight. The two teams must complete a game that was suspended by rain in an early-season meeting in Greeneville. The Astros are down 5-0 in the seventh and that's where that game will resume with a 5 p.m. start. The regularly scheduled game will follow.
Johnson City is back at Cardinal Park tonight to take on Elizabethton in the first of a three-game set.
Even the arrival in town of a couple of first round draft picks, pitchers Lance McCullers and Joe Musgrove, could do nothing to stop the streaking Cards from taking both ends of a twin-bill. But it wasn't the pitching that stymied the Astros. Their bats were silent all night.
After dropping the first game 8-2, McCullers made his Appalachian League debut by starting the second game. The 2012 first round pick by Houston, 41st overall, was the Gatorade National Pitcher of the Year while in high school in Tampa, Fla. The son of the former major leaguer with the same name did nothing to hurt his credentials, pitching four innings and not allowing a run while giving up one hit and striking out four.
When he departed the contest, the Astros were up 1-0, thanks to an RBI double by Angel Ibanez in the bottom of the third that allowed D'Andre Toney to score.
Another right-hander and 2011 first round selection by the Toronto Blue Jays, Musgrove, entered the game in the fifth inning to make his first appearance with the Astros since being acquired in a trade between Houston and Toronto last month. Over 1.2 innings, Musgrove was credited with allowing one earned run on four hits.
After trailing the Astros through five innings, the Cardinals got the tying run with a Dutch Deol RBI-single on a soft fly ball to center field in the sixth.
Then, with the game even at 1-1 in the seventh inning, Johnson City put together a four-run rally with scores coming off a fielding error, a Cesar Valera RBI-double and a two-run single by Gerwuins Velazco.
Suddenly behind by four runs and down to their final three outs, Jean Batista managed to get on base for the Astros with his league-best 16th double of the season. However, Greeneville came up short in the end and fell to the Cardinals 5-1.
Johnson City's Stalyn Lopez (3-2) earned the win as he pitched the complete seven-inning game, giving up one run on four hits. Euris Quezada (3-2) took the loss for the Astros.
The Astros were able to put together only four hits in the nightcap, doubles by Ibanez and Batista and singles by Toney and Jose Monzon.
The Cardinals also used strong pitching in the first game of the doubleheader, with Victor De Leon (2-0) going five innings and allowing only three hits with two earned runs. Roberto Canache came on to hurl the final two innings and was perfect, facing the minimum six batters.
Bruce Caldwell and Valera led the bats for the Cardinals. Caldwell went 3-for-3 with a homer, triple and single and scored three times. Valera was 2-for-2 with a double, scoring twice and knocked in a pair of runs.
After falling behind 4-0 going into the bottom of the third, Greeneville struck for their two runs, thanks to a two-out, two-run double from Ibanez.
Johnson City pounded out 13 hits compared to only three by the Astros: the Ibanez double, a double by Toney and a single by Ricky Gingras.
Adrian Houser (2-4) went 4.1 innings on the mound for the Astros and took the loss.