Smokies third baseman Kris Bryant blasted his Southern League leading 18th home run of the season and drove in three runs to stretch his top league mark to 49 RBI, while the Birmingham Barons came back from an early two-run hole to top Tennessee 4-3 on Sunday afternoon at Smokies Stadium.
With the win, Birmingham upped their 2014 record to 25-32 on the year and also took a 2-0 lead in the series with a chance to clinch the five-game set Monday evening. Tennessee, meanwhile, fell to 26-30 and have fallen in seven consecutive contests, with all but one decided by only one run.
Bryant continued his dominance of Southern League pitching this season with his 18th longball of the season, in addition to three RBI. The 22-year-old now leads the Southern League in nine offensive categories, including all three Triple Crown statistics with a .350 average (70-200), 18 homers and 49 RBI, while also ranking third among all Minor Leaguers in roundtrippers.
It was also the seventh opposite field homer for Bryant, who deposited the 2-1 pitch over the right-center field wall to give the Smokies a 2-1 advantage in the bottom of the first. Birmingham CF Trayce Thompson led off the game with a solo blast to left on the third pitch of the contest to initially put the Barons up 1-0.
Tennessee would strike again and open the margin to three thanks to again to Bryant, this time in the third. SS Jeudy Valdez began the frame with a single, stole second and then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, before coming across on Bryant’s run-scoring groundout for a 3-1 lead.
It would once again turn into a one-run contest in the fourth courtesy of a single tally by Birmingham. The two-out rally started when LF Michael Earley doubled to left, and then was brought home on SS Dan Wagner’s RBI base knock to center, narrowing their deficit to 3-2.
The Barons would then draw the score even at 3-3 with another single score in the sixth. C Chris Curley led off with a double, and advanced to third on a wild pitch, prior to scoring on a 1B Rangel Ravelo’s sacrifice fly to center to tie the game.
The Birmingham comeback would be capped with another lone tally in the eighth. RF Keenyn Walker reached base on a throwing error to begin the inning and shifted to second on a sacrifice bunt before being brought home on Curley’s run-scoring base hit to right, giving the Barons their second and final lead of the contest.
Curley (2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI) and Earley (2-4, 1 R, 1 2B) each recorded two hits for Birmingham in the win, while Valdez (2-3, 1 R) was the lone Smokies batter to tally a multi-hit effort.
For the second straight game, neither club saw their starting pitcher factor in the final decisions. Smokies right-hander Corey Black (5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 6 SO) struck out six and walked zero while allowing three earned runs on six hits in 5.2 frames, while Barons righty Chris Beck (6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO) yielded three runs, two of which were earned, on five hits in six innings of work.
Tennessee reliever Tony Zych (1.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER) suffered his third defeat of the season after yielding an unearned run, while Birmingham righty reliever Nestor Molina (1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 SO) earned the victory after tossing two shutout frames, relinquishing one hit while fanning one. Closer Cody Winiarski (1.1 IP, 1 BB, 2 SO) notched his five save of the year for the Barons.
The Smokies will look to snap their seven-game skid and avoid a series clinching loss to the Barons Monday night in Kodak, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. ET. Tennessee is slated to send RHP Dae-Eun Rhee (2-2, 3.29) to the bump, while Birmingham is anticipated to give the ball to RHP Bryan Blough (0-0, 3.52).
It’s another McGhee Tyson Airport Low Fare Monday, with fans able to get plenty of bang for their buck with hot dogs, popcorn, small Pepsi products and programs all available for just one dollar.
Tickets for that contest and all remaining 2014 Smokies home games are still available and can be purchased online at www.smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at (865) 286-2300.
Listen to Manager Buddy Bailey’s postgame press conference below: