By Adam Kline / Tennessee Smokies
HOOVER, Ala. – Nick Struck continued his dominance over Birmingham, allowing just one unearned run over six innings, but the Barons scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to down the Tennessee Smokies, 4-2, on Wednesday night at Regions Park. The loss in the second contest of a five-game series snaps Tennessee’s three-game winning streak.
Tennessee’s loss combined with Chattanooga’s win over the Jacksonville Suns on Wednesday drops the Smokies (24-28 second half, 59-63 overall) six games behind the Lookouts in the second-half North Division standings with 18 games remaining in the regular season.
In search of his league-leading 14th win of the season, Struck did not factor in the decision after scattering five hits and fanning out six batters while walking one. In six career starts against Birmingham, Struck is 4-0 with a 0.76 ERA.
With Nestor Molina toeing the rubber for Birmingham, the Smokies opened the scoring in the top of the third thanks to back-to-back one-out doubles by Mike Burgess and Chad Noble. Tennessee’s 1-0 lead held until the sixth, when Matt Szczur led off with a double, moved to third on a Logan Watkins sacrifice bunt, and scored on an RBI single by Justin Bour. Szczur’s hit extended his hitting streak to nine games while the RBI was Bour’s league-best 102nd of the season.
Birmingham broke through against Struck in the bottom of the seventh. With two on and no outs, Erik Morrison laid down a bunt and Struck fired the ball wide of first base, allowing Brady Shoemaker to score and cut the Barons’ deficit to 2-1. Struck departed with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with no outs, but Brian Schlitter struck out the next three batters to preserve the Tennessee lead.
The Barons would take their first lead of the contest in the bottom of the eighth. Carlos Sanchez led off the inning with a double to left and scored on an RBI single by the next batter, Trayce Thompson, to tie the game at two. Andy Wilkins attempted to bunt Thompson to second, but Schlitter fielded and fired to second to get the lead runner for the first out. Following a Shoemaker strikeout, Seth Loman tripled to left to plate Wilkins with the go-ahead run. The Barons added some insurance later in the frame when left fielder Rubi Silva dropped a fly ball off the bat of Morrison, giving Birmingham a 4-2 edge.
Brandon Kloess (3-3) retired all six batters he faced in relief to earn the win for Birmingham while Schlitter (2-4) suffered the loss after blowing the save in the eighth.
The Smokies and Barons play the middle contest of their three-game series on Thursday night at 8:05 p.m. ET when Tennessee sends southpaw Eric Jokisch (7-2, 3.02 ERA) to the mound against left-hander Spencer Arroyo (6-2, 4.15 ERA) at Regions Park.
GAME NOTES: Four Tennessee errors – including two by Nick Struck – led to a pair of unearned runs for Birmingham… Despite the loss, the Smokies lead the season series with the Barons, 12-8.
LISTEN TO GAME HIGHLIGHTS: August 15, 2012 Smokies 2 Barons 4