JACKSONVILLE – Kris Bryant hit a two-run home run in the sixth, Dustin Geiger hit a solo home run in the ninth and the Smokies rallied back from a four run deficit to tie their game with the Suns before an error by Elliot Soto in the bottom of the ninth allowed Jacksonville to escape with a 6-5 home win on Sunday.
The Smokies (30-33) scored twice in the ninth to tie the game and scored four times between the sixth and ninth after originally leading 1-0 in the first. Jacksonville (33-31) scored three times in the first to take back the early lead and were up 5-1 until Bryant’s home run in the sixth.
Armando Rivero pitched the ninth for the Smokies and walked the first batter he faced. That batter was Austin Barnes and with two outs in the inning he later scored on a fielding error by Soto on a groundball hit to middle by Alfredo Silverio. Rivero (1-1, 2-3) walked two (including one intentional walk) and allowed one unearned run in the final inning.
Closer Nick Wittgren lost the Suns lead in the ninth after allowing a home run, a triple and a then a sacrifice fly. Geiger led off the ninth with his ninth home run of the season and after a pop out from Anthony Giansanti, pinch hitter Rubi Silva ripped a triple to center. Taylor Davis then followed with a sacrifice fly and the Smokies tied the game at 5-5.
Wittgren (2-3, 4.71) blew the save, his fourth, but earned the win despite allowing two runs and two hits over one inning.
Matt Loosen started and pitched through the fourth for the Smokies. He allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits over four full innings. Loosen also walked four, struck out three and allowed one home run.
Tennessee originally took a 1-0 lead against Suns starter Justin Nicolino after Jonathan Mota singled in a run in the first. Mota’s single scored Bryant who doubled earlier in the inning. Nicolino did not pitch from behind for long as the Suns rallied back in the bottom of the first.
Joe Benson brought the Suns out in the front with a three run home run off Loosen. The inning started with rehabbing Major Leaguer Rafael Furcal reaching on a walk. Loosen followed the walk with a strikeout of Austin Nola, but Furcal managed to steal second during Nola’s at-bat. Furcal moved to third moments later after Bryant was a charged with an error on a misplayed grounder hit to him by Austin Barnes. The error was immediately followed by Benson’s home run.
Two of the three scored by the Suns in the first were earned to Loosen. He finished the inning by getting Rich Poythress to fly out and Brent Keys to ground out.
Jacksonville led 3-1 through the second and added one more in the third on a Silverio double. The run scoring hit brought in Poythress who reached on a two-out single to center off Loosen. Loosen also walked one in the inning and the Suns took a 4-1 lead.
Benson struck again with a sacrifice fly in the fourth that scored Furcal and Jacksonville took a 5-1 lead. Furcal reached on a one-out bunt single to third that was misplayed by Bryant. His errant throw allowed Furcal to third. Bryant was charged with two errors in the game.
Loosen allowed just one hit and one run in the fourth, but he faced six batters in the inning. He walked one and also hit a batter before allowing Benson’s sacrifice fly.
Lendy Castillo pitched the fifth and seventh for Tennessee. He walked two, struck out one and kept the Suns without a run or a hit over two innings. Zach Cates worked a scoreless seventh and Tony Zych did the same in the eighth. Cates allowed one hit and did not walk or strikeout a batter. Zych struck out one and pitched a scoreless eighth.
The Smokies trailed 5-1 into the sixth before getting two runs to close the lead to 5-3. Bryant hit his league leading 21st home run in the sixth off Nicolino and pulled the Smokies within two. The home run scored Soto, who singled to the pitcher to start the inning.
Nicolino pitched through the seventh and allowed three runs while scattering seven hits. He did not issue a walk, struck out four and allowed one home run.
Joseph O’Gara pitched the eighth and retired the Smokies in order to end hold the 5-3 Suns lead.
Tennessee’s two run ninth brought them into a tie going into the last of the final inning. The Smokies lost the tie and a chance at getting their first win this season when trailing in a game after the seventh inning. The Smokies are 0-22 when trailing after seven this season.
The series is now tied at 2-2 and concludes with the rubber match on Monday at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 pm and features the probable pitching match-up of Angel Sanchez (0-7, 6.39) for the Suns going against Joe Gardner (1-0, 0.98) for Tennessee.