BRISTOL, Va. – The Bristol Pirates arrived in town on June 14, played their first game four days later and have been putting in work ever since, but the fortunes of the Appalachian League club’s 2019 season will not be decided until tonight when they play their 67th and final regular-season game of the summer.
A victory against the Danville Braves at DeVault Stadium would give the city’s professional baseball franchise a playoff berth for the first time since 2002 and secure a winning season for the first time since 2008.
A defeat would send the 33 players on the roster home for the winter and mean an 11th consecutive losing season for Bristol’s minor league squad.
“It’s crazy how you have so many games over the course of a season and it comes down to the last one,” said Bristol third baseman Aaron Shackelford. “But that’s what you dream about, so it will be exciting and a good atmosphere.”
The win-or-go-home scenario came to fruition after the BriBucs dropped a 5-4 decision to Danville on Tuesday night.
The BriBucs (33-33) fell into a tie for third place in the Appy League’s crowded West Division as Johnson City (34-33), Kingsport (34-33) and Elizabethton (33-33) are all vying for two playoff positions.
Yet, there will be no complicated math or numbers crunching required when it comes to Bristol’s postseason hopes.
Ace right-hander Tahnaj Thomas (1-3, 3.32 ERA) will get the pitching assignment today as he tries to save the season for the BriBucs. He’ll unleash his first pitch at 6:30 p.m.
“We’re optimistic,” said Bristol catcher Eli Wilson. “We’ve got Tahnaj going for us and he’s been pretty much our horse all year. We’re anxious and ready to get out here and play our best baseball.”
Bristol did not play its best baseball on Tuesday as four errors did the Pirates in. A dropped flyball by right fielder Jake Wright with two outs in the top of the ninth inning allowed the Braves (30-37) to plate their crucial fifth and final run.
Bristol scored once and got the potential tying run at third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but Danville reliever Justin Yeager retired Jesus Valdez on a groundball to clinch the win.
Those errors were the difference.
“You have to take care of the baseball,” said Bristol manager Kieran Mattison. “They know that and we went out and did some defensive work today, but guys need to calm down and relax and just play the game.”
Bristol has shown resiliency all summer, bouncing back from a 1-6 start to the season.
“We’re grinders,” Shackelford said. “We’ve got a bunch of grinders on this team and we’re hoping for a gritty win [Wednesday] to get us to the playoffs.”
How confident is Bristol’s skipper in his team’s chances?
“One-hundred percent,” Mattison said. “I’d put all my money on us [Wednesday]. I know they are going to go out fighting and this group is tough. Yes, we’ve had some unfortunate luck the last two days and haven’t really played well, but I feel like we’ll turn it around and start playing well.”
NOTES: Samuel Inoa and Yoyner Fajardo each had two hits for Bristol. Inoa smacked a two-run homer in the fourth inning. … Cody Birdsong and Mitch Calandra finished with two hits apiece for Danville. … Danville had runners on first and third with one out in the top of the eighth inning, when the BriBucs turned a unique 2-5-2-5-6 double play after Jose Palma failed to get a bunt down. … Doug Strange, a special assistant to Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, was in attendance. Strange played for the Appalachian League’s Bristol Tigers in 1985 and eventually spent nine years in the majors with six different teams. … Darius Vines is the scheduled starting pitcher today for the Braves. The former Cal State Bakersfield star is 0-4 with a 6.61 ERA in 11 starts for Danville.