Mississippi combined for four runs between the fifth and seventh innings, while shortstop Gustavo Nunez recorded two hits and the Braves bullpen quieted the Smokies’ bats to topple Tennessee 4-2 and even the five-game set on Thursday evening at Smokies Stadium.
With the win, Mississippi moves to 38-28 on the year and evens the series at 1-1, while the defeat dropped Tennessee to 31-35. The M-Braves lead the overall season series 2-5.
Tennessee struck first with a single tally in the third. 3B Kris Bryant drew a two-out free pass to extend the inning, then advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, before coming plateward on 1B Charlie Cutler’s run-scoring base knock to left to push the Smokies ahead 1-0.
Two frames later, Mississippi evened the contest with small ball. 2B Elmer Reyes led off the inning with a double to right-center and would move on to third on a sacrifice bunt, before coming across on RF Derrick Mitchell’s sacrifice fly to left.
The two clubs then traded scores in the sixth. M-Braves SS Gustavo Nunez reached on an infield single, stole second and then moved to third on another infield base knock, before being sent home on a wild pitch to put Mississippi up 2-1.
The Smokies however answered right back, with Bryant scoring once again. The infielder reached base for the second time with a leadoff double to right, prior to being brought home on CF Rubi Silva’s clutch two-out triple to straight center to nod the contest even at 2-2.
Mississippi, meanwhile, answered right back with a pair of runs in the seventh. Mitchell started the rally with a free pass and then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. After Nunez reached on a base on balls, Mitchell would score on a Smokies error on a pickoff attempt, with Nunez moving to third on the play and then home on a safety squeeze bunt from Jones, moving giving the M-Braves the 4-2 advantage.
Cutler (2-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB) and Silva (2-4, 1 3B, 1 RBI) recorded two-hit games for the Smokies in the loss, while Nunez (2-3, 2 R, 1 BB) was the only Mississippi batter to collect a multi-hit effort. After reaching base twice, including his two-bagger, Bryant extended his hit streak to seven games and on-base stretch to 17 consecutive contests.
Despite another quality start, Smokies right-hander Dae-Eun Rhee (6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO) did not factor in the decision after yielding two earned runs on six hits in six frames. It was the team-leading sixth quality outing of the year for Rhee, and second consecutive after firing seven scoreless on June 7 in Jacksonville.
Tennessee reliever Zach Cates (0.2 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB) suffered the loss, while Mississippi relief man Ryan Weber (2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER) earned the victory and James Hoyt (1.0 IP, 3 SO) notched his fifth save by striking out the side in the final frame. Braves starter Williams Perez (4.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO), who entered the game second in the Southern League in earned-run average and WHIP, relinquished a lone earned run on five hits in four frames.
Tennessee and Mississippi are set to play the middle game of their five-game series Friday night at Smokies Stadium, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. RHP Matt Loosen (3-2, 5.33) is slated to toe the rubber for the Smokies, while RHP J.R. Graham (1-3, 4.72) is anticipated to get the nod for the M-Braves.
It’s sure to be a blast in Kodak, with the best fireworks show in town following the contest on Fireworks Friday, presented by Pepsi, Coor’s Light, the Knoxville News Sentinel, WVLT and WIVK. In addition it’s another Free Ride Friday at the ballpark, with one lucky fan going home with a car courtesy of Rusty Wallace Honda/Kia. All Friday night Smokies home games are presented by Remote Area Medical.
Tickets for that game 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 comments below: