With the best record in the Appalachian League, the Rookie-level Royals don't usually make too many mistakes. But in the Appalachian Finals opener Tuesday, Andrew Knizner and the Cardinals made them pay heavily.
"When you get into playoff baseball, taking advantage of any opportunity is going to be key," Johnson City manager Chris Swauger said. "Any kind of swing in the game, any momentum change, you have have to take advantage. Our guys kind of smelled blood in the water and did a good job."
Capitalizing on the three-error fourth inning that led to four runs, the Cardinals picked up a 6-2 victory at Burlington Athletic Stadium for a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 Championship Series.
"The mood with the team is great right now," said Knizner, who led the offense with two hits and two RBIs. "We played a great game tonight in all three phases. We hit well, played defense great and pitched excellent. I think we are feeling pretty confident knowing we have one more game to win for the championship."
The score was tied, 2-2, when the Royals -- who had the fewest errors in the league during the regular season with 46 -- broke down defensively.
"I don't know how much we did to create those mistakes, but I think in general, we just put pressure on offensively and put up good at-bats," Swauger said. "Typically that leads to good innings."
Cardinals starter Ramon Santos settled down after yielding two runs in the first inning. He ended up allowing six hits and a walk while striking out four over seven frames. He also induced three of his team's four double plays in the contest.
"He was throwing his fastball in the mid- to upper-90s tonight with a really good breaking ball," said catcher Knizner. "He just left a couple of pitches up in the zone in the first inning, so the main adjustment we came out with in the next inning through the seventh was getting his fastball down in the zone and he did a great job doing that."
Johnson City, going for its fourth title in seven years, will host Game 2 at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Howard Johnson Field.
"They are the best team that we've gone up against, so I think it's only fitting we meet them in the Finals," Swauger said. "We have matched up well against them and split the season series (3-3). It's just two very well-run and well-coached teams that are going to go at it. We got one tonight, but I fully expect to get their best effort and they are going to put pressure on us tomorrow. It's up to us to rise to the challenge."