The Kingsport Mets are heading into the home stretch of the Appalachian League season, and if the season ended today, they'd be in the playoffs.
With a little less than one third of the 2013 season remaining, the Kingsport Mets are entrenched in second place by five games after Thursday night's 7-4 victory over the Pulaski Mariners in the rubber game of their series at Hunter Wright Stadium.
Jon Leroux and Jeff Diehl both homered for Kingsport (27-19), which leads the Johnson City Cardinals by five games for second place in the West with 21 games left to play. Chris Flexen (6-1) picked up his league-leading sixth victory, scattering two runs and five hits over seven innings of work. Flexen has gone exactly seven innings in five consecutive starts.
Pulaski struck early once again on Thursday, plating two runs in the second inning. It could have been much worse; Flexen stranded five Mariner base runners through the first two frames.
Leroux changed the momentum with a single swing of the bat in the third, clouting a three-run home run over the wall in left to score himself, catcher Adrian Abreu and center fielder Champ Stuart. Leroux's homer came on a 1-1 count with two outs in the inning.
The longball by Diehl added some valuable insurance. It came with two outs in the seventh, on just the third pitch from freshly entered Pulaski reliever Daniel Thieben. Diehl's homer also plated Yeixon Ruiz to make it a 6-2 ballgame.
Kingsport added another, unearned insurance run in the eighth. All that extra run support came in handy. Pulaski tried to rally in the ninth against Kingsport reliever Ricardo Jacquez, loading the bases on a hit batter and a pair of walks before recording a single out. The Mariners pushed across two runs on a passed ball and a sacrifice fly, but Jacquez struck out Tyler Smith looking to end the game.
Pulaski (31-16), which is also comfortably ahead in second in the East, lost back-to-back games for the first time since July 13-14.
Kingsport now heads to Greeneville for the final head-to-head meetings of the season against the Astros. Greeneville sits atop the West Division.
NOTES: K-Met Pedro Perez made a fine defensive play in the fourth, ranging to his left and fielding a one-hop grounder by Dan Kemp on the run, then firing the ball to Richie Rodriguez at second to start a 5-4-3 double play. … Kingsport turned two double plays on the night. … Diehl and Abreu each had two hits to lead the K-Mets, who tallied nine base knocks as a squad. … Robert Whalen (2-1, 1.54) is the probable starter for Friday's game at Greeneville. Whalen leads the Appalachian League in WHIP (0.88) and his ERA ranks fourth.