It's been 17 years since the Kingsport Mets made the Appalachian League playoffs.
That drought is over.
Jeyckol De Leon delivered his third walk-off base hit of the season, scoring Yeixon Ruiz in the 10th inning and elevating the K-Mets to a 7-6 victory over the Bluefield Blue Jays. Kingsport (38-27) trailed 4-1 at one point in this game but came back to score the victory. That rally, combined with the Johnson City Cardinals' loss to Burlington, clinched a playoff spot for the K-Mets. Plus, with Greeneville losing to Danville, the K-Mets now sit in first place in the Appy's West Division, leading the Astros by a half game.
The four participants in the Appy playoffs have been determined. The pairings remain up for grabs. With two games remaining in the regular season, Bluefield leads Pulaski by a half-game in the East. The two divisional winners earn the right to host games two and three in the opening round.
Kingsport lost seven of its first nine games but got into the playoff chase by tallying 21 victories during the month of July. A similar comeback was required to secure the K-Mets' first playoff trip in almost two decades.
Bluefield jumped out to the 4-1 lead by having more success hitting the ball off Kingsport starter Robert Whalen than arguably any Appy League team to date. A wild bottom of the seventh got the K-Mets back into the game. Kingsport scored five runs on three hits in that inning, and benefited from three consecutive errors by the Jays. Kingsport batted around in the frame and by the time the smoke cleared, had a 6-4 lead.
Bluefield forced extra innings thanks to a two-out, two-run double down the left-field line by Franklin Barreto in the ninth. Kingsport broke through in the 10th after Yeixon Ruiz's infield single, and a line single to left advanced Ruiz to third. An intentional walk to the newest K-Met position player, 2013 first-round draft pick Dominic Smith, loaded the bases for De Leon, whose flare single to right scored Ruiz with the decisive run.
The game had that postseason feel. Both teams were more aggressive in making changs on the mound, as well as on pinch hitters and pinch runners.
McNeil went 4-for-6 for Kingsport, accounting for nearly one-third of the team's 13 total hits. Ruiz, the only K-Met to make the Appalachian League All-Star team, had two hits and two runs scored out of the top spot in the lineup.
Robert Coles (4-1) got the win for the K-Mets, retiring two batters in the top of the 10th with the potential winning run on first base at the time he entered. Phil Kish (0-2) took the loss for Bluefield.
Both teams control their own destiny in the divisional title races, which are coming down to the wire. They're back at it Thursday, with the first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.
How long has it been since Kingsport reached the playoffs? A little perspective... Kingsport shortstop Amed Rosario wasn't even 1 year old the last time the K-Mets made the postseason.
NOTES: Kingsport got some reinforcements from the Mets' Gulf Coast League affiliate for this stretch run, with pitcher Gaby Almonte and the first baseman Smith joining the team. Smith was the 11th overall pick in June's draft, and hit .287 with three home runs and 22 RBIs in 48 games for the GCL Mets. Almonte (3-2) compiled a 2.31 ERA and a 1.329 WHIP. Almonte made 10 appearances, with seven starts, totaling 46 2-3 innings of work. … Smith walked in both of his plate appearances, drawing an intentional pass in the 10th. … Whaln allowed four runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts over six innings. Tyler Bashlor and Luis Rengel followed with a scoreless inning of relief each. … The two teams combined for nine errors.