MISSISSIPPI – Rafael Lopez hit a two-run home run to cap a three run first inning, but that was not enough as the Smokies lost the opener of a five game series at Trustmark Park 6-5 in 11 innings to the Braves. Kris Bryant was 2-for-6 with a run batted in double in the loss.
Mycal Jones led off the eleventh with a single and stole both second and third before scoring on Cedric Hunter’s game winning single to left. Tennessee (23-17) reliever Austin Kirk took the loss after allowing Hunter’s hit. Kirk walked one, allowed the winning run and gave up two hits over 1/3 inning.
Ryne Harper earned the win for Mississppi (21-19) after pitching a scoreless tenth and eleventh. He allowed a hits, walked one and struck out three.
The Smokies also used Armando Rivero, Jeff Lorick and Lendy Castillo out of the bullpen after Joel Pineiro started and pitched five innings. Pineiro walked one, struck out three and gave up three runs (two earned) on eight hits.
The Braves got six innings out of their starter Williams Perez. Perez allowed all three runs in the first, but blanked the Smokies over the next five innings. He allowed just two hits after the opening inning and allowed four total hits in his start.
Relievers Brandon Cunniff, Eric Berger, James Hoyt and Ryne Harper also appeared in the game for Mississippi. Berger earned a hold, Hoyt suffered a blown save and Harper (3-0) earned the win.
John Andreoli led off the game with a single off Perez. Andreoli went on to steal second and then score on a flare single to left from Stephen Bruno.
The Smokies led 1-0 after the first two batters, but went up 3-0 when Lopez hit his two-run home run to center.
The home run was the fourth this season for Lopez. He came into the game with the league’s top on-base percentage (.458) and the third best slugging percentage (.537). That gave Lopez a .994 OPS (on-base plus slugging) through 30 games. His .994 OPS coming into Thursday’s game is the second best in the Southern League, second only to Kris Bryant’s league best 1.038 OPS.
Pineiro started and faced only three in a scoreless first. He allowed one hit, but was able to get Hunter to hit into an inning ending double play to finish the first.
Perez and the M-Braves held the Smokies scoreless in the second. Rubi Silva was hit by a pitch to start the inning, but was left on the bases as Perez retired the next three straight to end the inning.
The Braves collected three hits and scored twice with help of two Tennessee errors in the home half of the second. Seth Lohman, Kyle Kubitza and David Rohm each had singles in the second for the Braves. Andreoli and Pineiro both had fielding errors in the inning. Rohm’s single scored Barrett Kleinknecht after he reached on a force out earlier in the inning. Kubitza scored on Pineiro’s fielding error.
The Smokies stranded two in their half of the third and were held scoreless for the second straight inning.
Kubitza led off the Mississippi fourth with a double to right-center and later scored on a fielding error by Bruno. Bruno let a ground ball from Rohm get by him and the resulting error allowed the Braves to tie the game 3-3. Andreoli, Bruno, Pineiro and Jeudy Valdez each had errors the loss.
Perez left after the sixth and reliever Cunniff took over with the game tied 3-3. The Smokies had also turned to their pen and would have Anthony Giansanti pinch hit for Castillo who pitched the sixth in place of Pineiro. Giansanti started the seventh with a bunt single to third and moved, moments later, to second on a wild pitch. Andreoli pushed him to third with a sacrifice bunt and Giansanti scored two batters later on a two-out double from Bryant.
The double put the Smokies up 4-3 and was Bryant’s 10th of the season. It also accounted for his league best 34th run batted in this season.
Tennessee’s lead was once again short lived as the Braves rallied for two runs and three hits off Lorick in the seventh.
Landoni, Hunter and Rohm each singled in the seventh for Mississippi. Rohm’s single to center scored both Landoni and Hunter as the Braves took their first lead of the night 5-4.
Berger came in for the eighth in relief of Cunniff and started his appearance with a strikeout of Charlie Cutler. He then got Silva to pop out, but then walked Valdez and was pulled from the game. Hoyt followed in the eighth and would see Valdez steal second before scoring when Giansanti put a ball in play to center that was misplayed by Jones. The error allowed Valdez to score and to tie the game at 5-5.
Jones atoned for his earlier misplay in the eleventh as he started the inning with a single and before stealing two bases. Hunter then delivered his walk-off single to end the game.