By Cody Chrusciel / Smokies Radio Network
PENSACOLA, Fla. – Junior Lake’s three-run homer in the top of the 15th inning propelled the Tennessee Smokies past the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, 7-3, on Sunday afternoon at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium in Tennessee’s longest contest of the season in terms of both time – four hours, 48 minutes – and innings.
After the Blue Wahoos plated two runs in the bottom of the seventh to even the score at three, both bullpens were dominant. Frank Batista worked 1.1 scoreless innings and stranded the go-ahead run on base in the seventh before Brian Schlitter held the Blue Wahoos off the scoreboard for three frames. Casey Harman entered in the 12th and stifled Pensacola over three innings as the game headed to the 15th.
In the top of the 15th, Logan Watkins led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, allowing Pensacola to intentionally walk Justin Bour. Lake followed by launching a three-run blast to left center to break the deadlock. The Smokies added an insurance run to extend their advantage to 7-4 when Rubi Silva tripled and scored on a ground out.
Harman (1-4) returned to the mound in the bottom of the 15th and worked around a two-out single to notch his first career Double-A win. Michael Griffin (1-1) took the loss, surrendering four runs on five hits over two innings.
The teams exchanged runs in the first inning. In the top of the frame, Matt Szczur led off the game with a single and scored when the second batter, Watkins, sliced an RBI double to the gap in left center to put Tennessee up, 1-0. However, Blue Wahoos starter Chad Rogers settled down and struck out the side to limit the damage. In the bottom of the frame, Dae-Eun Rhee struck out the first two Pensacola batters before Bryson Smith singled and scored on a Beau Mills double to right to tie the game, 1-1.
That score held until the top of the sixth. After Rogers had retired 12 straight Smokies, Jae-Hoon Ha and Bour strung together back-to-back singles with Ha coming plateward on a Lake sacrifice fly to put Tennessee up, 2-1. The Smokies extended their lead to 3-1 in the seventh when Matt Cerda led off with a single and scored on a Watkins sacrifice fly.
Rhee turned the ball over to Tony Zych in the bottom of the seventh, and the reliever struggled with his command. Billy Hamilton drew a leadoff walk but was thrown out by Mike Brenly trying to steal second. With one out and the bases empty, Josh Fellhauer singled and scored when Smith tripled to right to pull Pensacola within one, 3-2. The next batter, Mills, ripped an RBI double to tie the game, 3-3.
Both starters pitched well, but neither factored in the decision. For Tennessee, Rhee allowed one run on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts in six innings. Rogers fanned eight batters while yielding two runs on five hits over 5.2 frames.
Lake drove in a team-best four runs despite going 1-for-5. Cerda finished 3-for-7 while Watkins and Ha each collected two hits. Smith went 3-for-5 for the Blue Wahoos, who stranded 16 runners on base.
The Smokies and Blue Wahoos conclude the regular season on Monday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET when Tennessee sends southpaw Austin Kirk (1-0, 3.57 ERA) to the mound against right-hander Mark Serrano (7-4, 3.49 ERA) at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.
LISTEN TO GAME HIGHLIGHTS: September 2, 2012 Smokies 7 Blue Wahoos 3