By Cody Chrusciel / Smokies Radio Network
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Justin Bour delivered Tennessee’s first grand slam of the season, but the Smokies were upended by the Jacksonville Suns, 8-5, on Saturday evening in the rubber match of a five-game series at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. The Smokies’ third straight loss, which ends a nine-game road trip, drops them to 15-20 in the second half and 50-55 overall.
Bour finished 2-for-5 with five RBIs – the most by a Tennessee batter this season. Right fielder Jake Smolinski paced the Suns’ 14-hit attack, going 3-for-3 with three doubles, three runs scored, and two RBIs.
With Nick Struck on the mound for Tennessee in search of his league-leading 12th win, the Suns jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Paul Gran’s first-inning sacrifice fly plated Smolinski, who led off with a double, to open the scoring. Jacksonville tacked on two more runs in the third thanks to a Chris Gutierrez RBI ground out and Gran’s second sacrifice fly of the contest. An Alfredo Lopez RBI single in the fourth made it 4-0.
Tennessee finally broke through against reigning Southern League Pitcher of the Week Graham Taylor in the top of the sixth when Logan Watkins singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and scored on an RBI single by Bour. However, Jacksonville would retaliate with three runs in the bottom of the frame to open up a 7-1 advantage.
With the Smokies trailing by six in the top of the seventh, Bour lifted a two-out grand slam over the high right center field wall to make it a 7-5 contest.
Jacksonville tacked on an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh to close out the scoring.
Taylor (6-8) allowed just one run on five hits over six innings to earn the win. Struck (11-10) failed to go five innings for just the second time in 22 starts this season, suffering the loss after surrendering four runs on seven hits in four innings. Former Smokie James Leverton retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his first save of the year.
Following a travel day on Sunday, the Smokies return home on Monday evening, when they’ll play a doubleheader against the Southern League’s newest member, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Game one of the twin bill, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., will pit Tennessee southpaw Eric Jokisch (6-2, 2.89 ERA) against Pensacola right-hander Mark Serrano (6-2, 2.77 ERA). In game two, Pensacola will left-hander Tony Cingrani (5-2, 2.15 ERA) to the mound while the Smokies have yet to announce their starter.
GAME NOTES: Saturday’s game marked the final regular-season meeting between Tennessee and Jacksonville; the Suns won eight of 13 contests and all three series… Tennessee starter Nick Struck was hit in the arm by a line drive in the bottom of the fourth inning but stayed in the game… Junior Lake, who is currently riding an 11-game hitting streak, got the day off to rest a wrist injury… The Smokies went 3-6 on the nine-game road trip.
LISTEN TO GAME HIGHLIGHTS: July 28, 2012 Smokies 5 Suns 8