BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
To borrow a famous quote from Yogi Berra, Tuesday night's baseball game between Greeneville and Princeton was truly one of those that you might say, "It ain't over 'till it's over."
The Greeneville Astros used two big innings, the first and the fifth, to score all of their eight runs, and that eventually proved to be enough for the home team to escape with an 8-7 victory as they improved to 6-2 on the season and remained in first place in the Applachian League West Division early in the campaign.
There was a lot of hitting going on in this one. The two teams combined for 29 safe blows. Greeneville used seven pitchers. Despite leading most of the way, the lead never felt safe for the Astros and the Rays kept chipping away, getting the tying run on base in the ninth before reliever Michael Hauschild, who earned the save, got the final out.
Greeneville second baseman Brian Blasik had the defensive play of the game in the eighth inning. The Rays had already scored two runs to close to 8-7 and had the tying run on second. Darryl George smashed a shot in the gap between first and second that looked like it had base hit written all over it, but Blasik made a diving stop, quickly rose to his feet and gunned down George at first to end the frame and keep the tying run from scoring.
It was a big night for Blasik, a first-year pro from Germantown, Ohio, who was happy with his "web gem."
"I caught it (picked it up) off the bat right away and was able to dive and get it," he said. "I'm happy I was able to make the play."
Offensively, Blasik was a big part of the game, too. He had three hits, knocked in three runs, and collected his first professional home run, a two-run blast in the first inning that erased an early 2-0 Rays lead.
The Astros are obviously thrilled with Blasik, who was not drafted in the 2012 draft after graduating from the University of Dayton, but who has begun his pro career in red-hot fashion. His three hits on Tuesday improved his average to .464, second best in the Appalachian League. He's also tied for the league lead in RBIs with 11.
"I played shortstop for two years at Dayton, and played summer ball in North Carolina for two years," he said. "I wasn't drafted, but coming from a small school, it's hard to be a position player and get drafted. But I got an opportunity to sign and play, and I'm trying to do all I can to move on up."
The Rays got the jump on the Astros with two runs in the top of the first as Greeneville starter Francis Ramirez had some control problems. He walked the first two batters he faced, and they both later scored on a two-out double by George.
But the lead was short-lived. Greeneville came right back in the home half of the first inning and plated four runs, two of them on Blasik's blast over the left field wall. Another scored when Princeton starter Kevin James walked Marc Wik with the bases loaded. The fourth run scored on an error when catcher Omar Narvaez threw wildly to first to try to nab a runner.
The parade of Greeneville pitchers started in the third after starter Ramirez made it only past the second frame. Princeton got a solo run in the third on a two-out double by Navaez and a base hit by Julian Morillo off reliever Christian Garcia. The Rays then tied the game at 4-4 with another run in the fifth off Jordan Jankowski, again coming with two outs after Narvaez stroked a double and scored on another Morillo infield hit.
The Astros gave a rough greeting to Rays' reliever Hugo Duarte in the bottom of the fifth. They hammered five hits, including three doubles, one each by Blasik, Ariel Ovando and Wik and each driving in a run. The fourth run of the frame scored on a sacrifice fly by Ernesto Genoves.
Princeton, down 8-4, began chipping away, closing to 8-5 with a run in the seventh, then plating two more in the eighth, one scoring on Reid Redman's triple to deep center and another on Willie Argo's broken bat infield single.
Argo stole second to get himself in scoring position, but Blasik ended the threat with his diving stab of the grounder off George's bat.
Jankowski got the win, his third of the season, with two innings pitched and recording five strikeouts while allowing only one run. Michael Hauschild came in to pitch the ninth and got the save, his first.
The Astros go for a series sweep against the Rays tonight at 7 p.m.
Thursday is the first of a three-game series against the Danville Braves, and it's Hometown Hero Bobblehead Night, with The Band Perry as the honorees. A pre-game VIP "meet and greet" with The Band Perry is scheduled on the Tusculum campus beginning at 5 p.m., and all tickets for that event have been sold. You must have a ticket to attend the "Meet & Greet." The bobbleheads will be given to fans at the gate as long as supplies last, and $1 of every ticket sold Thursday will go to United Way.