Kingsport, TN - The Greeneville Astros have proven this season that they can play well with their backs to the wall. After being defeated at home by the Kingsport Mets in game one of the Appalachian League Semifinal Round, they answered with a 7-2 win on the road in game two. However, in the decisive game three at Hunter Wright Stadium on Tuesday night, they were faced with possibly their toughest challenge yet.
The Astros were trailing the Mets, 3-2, with two outs in the ninth inning of a game that would determine who would advance to the Appalachian League Championship Series. Down to their last strike, the Astros defined resiliency as the team bounced back from adversity, stayed focused and rallied to an improbable 7-3 win and earned the right to play the Pulaski Mariners for the Appalachian League crown.
The Astros were behind the Mets for nearly the entire game leading up to the ninth inning. It all began back in the bottom of the first. Following a Victor Cruzado triple with two outs, Jeyckol De Leon struck out swinging but still advanced to first on a wild pitch while Cruzado came in to give the Mets a 1-0 lead.
Four scoreless innings ensued before the Mets scored again in the sixth. With two outs and runners at first and third, Astros' starting pitcher Frederick Tiburcio caught Yeixon Ruiz off the bag at third and had him in a rundown. However, the Mets' All-Star ran back-and-forth until the Astros overthrew the catcher at home and allowed Ruiz to score and make the game 2-0 for the Mets.
The Astros remained focused and found a way to rebound in the top of the seventh inning. Chase McDonald got the inning going with a leadoff double and advanced to third on a Brian Holberton sacrifice fly. Then, Angel Ibanez entered the game as a pinch-hitter and came through with a big RBI single on a fly ball to left field to get the Astros their first score.
With Ibanez on first, Ariel Ovando was walked. Then, Thomas Lindauer was hit by a pitch and the bases were loaded. With Brett Phillips up to bat, he drew a walk and Ibanez, who represented the tying run, headed home to even the game at 2-2.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Mets' Yeixon Ruiz was back to lead off the inning and drew a walk. Then, with Jeff McNeil batting, a failed pickoff attempt at first that bounced well into foul territory allowed Ruiz to advance all the way around to third. McNeil then hit a sacrifice fly to the Astros' Brett Phillips in center field. After the catch, Ruiz tagged up and headed for home, but Phillips made an impressive throw to catcher Brian Holberton at the plate. Ruiz crashed into Holberton and, after a moment with both players on the ground, the ball rolled away and Ruiz was called safe at home to put the Mets back on top 3-2.
With their season on the line, the Astros made the most of their opportunities in the ninth inning. With one out, Ariel Ovando hit a fly ball that dropped into fair play down the left field line for a double. Then, after a strikeout, the Astros were suddenly down to their final out and the Mets were preparing to celebrate. However, with two strikes against him, Brett Phillips came through with an enormous clutch double into left field to score Marc Wik, who came on as a pinch-runner for Ovando, to tie the game.
With the score even at 3-3 and Phillips at second base, the Mets made a pitching change and intentionally walked Astros' team MVP Tanner Mathis. Then, Juan Santana came through with another big hit for the Astros as he singled on a line drive into right field to bring Phillips home and give the Astros their first lead of the game.
Before the top of the ninth inning was through, the Astros incredibly added three more insurance runs, all with two outs. Edwin Gomez followed Santana with another RBI single into right field. Then Chase McDonald, who went three-for-five on the night, hit his second double on line drive into right field to bring in Santana and Gomez.
All the sudden, the Astros went from being one strike away from going home to holding a 7-3 lead. Then, following a quick 1-2-3 inning by relief pitcher Raul Rivera in the bottom of the ninth, they had clinched their second ever Appalachian League Championship appearance.
Rivera picked up the win for the Astros as he pitched a total of 1.2 scoreless innings, gave up one hit and had one strikeout. Prior to Rivera, the Astros got 1.1 innings from left-hander Sebastian Kessay. In his time, Kessay gave up one unearned run on two hits and also had one strikeout. Meanwhile, starting pitcher Frederick Tiburcio went the first 6.0 innings and gave up two runs, with only one earned, on two hits to go along with seven strikeouts.
The Astros will now prepare to host the Pulaski Mariners at Pioneer Park in game one of the Appalachian League Championship Series on Wednesday at 7:00pm. Tickets will be available both online at www.greenevilleastros.com and in the Astros' ticket office at Pioneer Park beginning Wednesday morning at 9:00am.
Game two of the championship series will be played in Pulaski, VA on Thursday. Game three, if necessary, will also be at the home of the Mariners.
For more information on the Greeneville Astros, please visit www.greenevilleastros.com or call (423) 638-0411.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.