BRISTOL, Va. – Tahnaj Thomas of the Bristol Pirates couldn’t have timed his first professional victory more perfectly.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander from the Bahamas pitched six solid innings to notch the W as the BriBucs moved closer to a potential postseason berth with a 2-1 Appalachian League triumph over the Pulaski Yankees on Thursday night at DeVault Stadium.
The Pirates (31-30) retained their grip on second place in the Appy League’s West Division and gained a game on leader Johnson City (32-30), while distancing themselves from Kingsport (30-32) and Elizabethton (29-32) with six games remaining.
The top two squads in the division make the playoffs and Bristol now controls its own destiny in that regard.
Speaking of control, Thomas was in complete command on Thursday as he yielded five hits, walked one and struck out three. It resulted in his first pro victory in his 35th appearance spanning three seasons.
“I’ve been waiting a while,” Thomas said. “It was fun to see. Coming out of the game I knew I had teammates to back me up, so I was pretty confident in getting the win.”
Thomas is 1-3 with a 3.32 ERA over the course of 11 starts and has racked up 54 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings. After not surviving the first inning of his initial start on opening night, Thomas has been terrific ever since.
“That first game I was just a bit tense,” Thomas said. “After speaking to my dad and my coaches and my teammates, I learned a lot. I’ve just settled in and tried to be myself.”
Bristol manager Kieran Mattison was surprised to learn that Thomas had not been in the victory column before Thursday.
“I saw that and said, ‘Wow,’ ” Mattison said. “I kind of felt bad that he didn’t have one because he’s pitched in so many games and gave us a chance to win and came out with the lead and we weren’t able to hold it; but that’s baseball and how it is at this level. It was good to see him get that first win tonight. … Tahnaj wasn’t as sharp as he normally is, but he made the pitches when he had to and didn’t let the game speed up on him.”
Yordi Rosario and Samson Abernathy polished off a six-hitter with Abernathy working a scoreless ninth inning for his sixth save.
Abernathy was glad to preserve a well-deserved victory for Thomas.
“He’s been throwing phenomenal this second half of the season,” Abernathy said. “And he just proved it tonight. He had them off balance for the most part.”
A solo home run in the first inning by Jesus Valdez, an infield single by Aaron Shackelford in the fourth and an infield single by Valdez in the sixth turned out to be the only hits the Pirates managed off Pulaski’s trio of Ken Waldichuk, Renso Mejia and Hayden Wesnewski.
However, that was all the BriBucs needed and the go-ahead run scored when Valdez raced home on Josh Bissonette’s RBI groundout in the sixth.
Bristol begins a pivotal three-game series today at 6:30 p.m. in Johnson City and the Pirates are 3-3 against the Cardinals this summer. What will be the key for the BriBucs?
“Just continue to play good baseball,” Mattison said. “We go in with the mentality to win every series, so we’re not going to change anything as far as mindset. The stage presents itself, but as far as us, we’re just going to continue doing what we’re doing. You can’t make it any bigger than what it is. It’s still a game that’s next on our schedule.”
Bristol will certainly be riding a wave of momentum.
“It’s really fun, honestly,” Thomas said. “The energy that we bring in the clubhouse transfers to the field. It’s really good to see.”
NOTES: Bristol turned three double plays. … The Pirates entered the game leading the Appy League with a .272 team batting average. … Bristol is aiming for its first winning season since 2008 and first playoff bid since 2002. The city’s professional baseball franchse was a Chicago White Sox affiliate on both of those occasions. … Chad Bell had two hits for Pulaski. ... After the three games at Johnson City, Bristol closes out the regular season with three games at home against the Danville Braves on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
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