After missing the postseason the last four years, the Palm Beach Cardinals are ready to get in the dance and win their first championship since 2005.
With the 18 players returning from last year's roster, the Beach Birds have the experience and the talent to get over the hump. They began the 2014 season with three wins against two losses.
April 3: St. Lucie Cardinals 6, Palm Beach Cardinals 5
The season opener did not go as planned for right-hander Mike Mayers (0-1), as he gave up five runs on seven hits in four innings. Things did not start poorly for the Cardinals, as they jumped out to a two run lead in the top of the third on the bat of Starlin Rodriguez. With runners on the corners and two outs, Rodriguez laced a single to left to make it 2-0.
The Mets scored two runs in the fourth to tie the game, and jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the fifth. Mayers started the frame by allowing a walk, a single and another walk to load the bases. He was removed in favor of Corey Baker, and he promptly gave up a grand slam.
The Cardinals cut the lead to 6-5 in the top of the sixth. Alex Mejia's double down the line provided the spark as it drove in two, but it was not enough as the Mets took the opener.
Mejia finished the night 4-for-4 with two RBI.
April 4: Palm Beach Cardinals 6 at St. Lucie Mets 2
The Cardinals earned their first victory of the season behind a strong pitching performance by Joe Cuda. The right-hander tossed four innings, allowing three hits, one earned run with six strikeouts. He did not qualify for the victory, but left the game with a one-run lead.
Thomas Lee (1-0) was the beneficiary, as he pitched 2 1/3 innings of relief to earn his first win of the year.
Lee was backed by a big offensive night by Rodriguez, as he went 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, one run and one RBI. Fellow outfielder Anthony Garcia added three hits, two runs and an RBI.
April 5: Palm Beach Cardinals 8, St. Lucie Mets 3
It is easier for a pitcher to go out and pitch with a comfortable lead. On Saturday night, Kyle Hald (1-0) was spotted an early three-run lead in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back.
David Washington provided the offense, clubbing his first homer of the season over the right field wall against Mets Michael Fulmer. The Cardinals put the game out of reach in the bottom of the third inning, scoring four runs on five hits. With Casey Rasmus on second base and two outs, Charlie Tilson, Breyvic Valera, Jacob Wilson and Washington connected on consecutive RBI hits to give the Cards a 7-1 lead.
Hald took it from there, tossing 5 2/3 innings, scattering four hits, allowing three runs- two earned and striking out four for his first win of the season.
April 6: Palm Beach Cardinals 1, St. Lucie Mets 0
Both squads finished their home-road series with a pitcher's duel on Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals' Cory Jones and Mets' Domingo Tapia matched each other pitch-for-pitch all game. However, in the fourth inning, the Birds broke through as Valera doubled to start the inning, advanced on a ground out and scored on a wild pitch.
With a one-run lead, Jones, Baker (1-0) and Dixon Llorens combined for a five-hit shutout. Baker earned the win, tossing 2 1/3 innings of two-hit relief, while Llorens tallied the save with two innings of perfect baseball with four strikeouts.
April 6: OFF DAY
April 7: Bradenton Marauders 4, Palm Beach Cardinals 3
The Cardinals took to the road and got off to a flying start, jumping to a 3-0 lead. In the second inning, Garcia clubbed his first homer of the 2014 campaign to give the Cards a 2-0 lead.
Running with a 3-0 lead, Cards starter Kyle Helisek was moving through the order. The southpaw tossed six innings of scoreless-one hit baseball. He had three strikeouts and was in line for the win, but Robert Stock and Lee (1-1) and could not hold the lead. Stock gave up two runs in the eighth, while Lee gave two in the ninth.
With two outs in the ninth inning, Marauders Jordan Steranka hit the first offering from Lee over the fence to tie the game. After the homer, Lee gave up back-to-back singles, and an error by Rodriguez in the right field corner allowed for the Marauders to win the game.
New at the Helm: After two seasons with Johnny Rodriguez leading the Palm Beach staff, the Cardinals organization went in a different direction in 2014. Dann Bilardello has taken over the squad. He has come up from the Midwest League affiliate Peoria.
Cardinals Stamp of Approval: The Cardinals roster features four of the organization's top-30 prospects according to Baseball America. Left-handed pitcher Marco Gonzales tops the list at No. 5. He was the organization's first round pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Stars Align: In his third season with Palm Beach, outfielder Starlin Rodriguez is trying to make his way through the organization as an outfielder. Through five games, he is hitting .400 (6-for-15) with three doubles, one triple and three RBI.
On the Horizon:
Palm Beach continues its road trip with two more games against Bradenton (Pirates) before heading to Port Charlotte, Fla. for a three-game set with the Stone Crabs (Rays). The club returns to Roger Dean Stadium on April 14th for a three-game series against Bradenton.
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