Smokies third baseman Christian Villanueva slapped a walk-off single to center in the bottom of the ninth, while right fielder Rubi Silva added two-run homer as part of a three-hit night in Tennessee’s 4-3 walk-off victory over the Chattanooga Lookouts in their second half opener on Thursday evening at Smokies Stadium.
The victory marks the third straight year the Smokies have been victorious in their first game of the second half of the season, and improved their overall record to 34-36. The Lookouts dropped their overall mark of 2014 to 26-45, and have lost eight of 11 against Tennessee this season.
After allowing the game-tying run in the top of the ninth, the Smokies surged back to walk off for the second consecutive contest after also winning in walk-off fashion in their first half finale. 2B Stephen Bruno began the final frame with a single to center and then moved to second on a throwing error on a pickoff attempt to set the scene for Villanueva. The infielder celebrated his 23rdd birthday in style driving the 1-2 pitch into center field, allowing Bruno to score without a throw.
The Lookouts had evened things up in the top of the frame to force the bottom of the inning. 3B Daniel Mayora started the rally with a double to right, then advanced to third on a groundout prior to being brought home on C Chris O’Brien’s run-scoring single to left.
It was a game that ended suddenly and started suddenly, with the Lookouts snatching the lead on the fourth pitch of the evening. 2B Darnell Sweeney led off the contest by smashing his seventh longball of the season over the right field fence to put Chattanooga up 1-0 in the opening frame.
Tennessee, however, would eventually answer with a single tally of their own in the third. Starting pitcher Dae-Eun Rhee helped his own cause by reaching on a bunt single and then took second on an error, and then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, before coming across on Bruno’s sacrifice fly to left to nod the contest even at 1-1.
The Smokies would then take the lead in the sixth with a home run of their own. Following 1B Dustin Geiger’s leadoff double to right-center, Silva exited stage right with his two-run blast to right, pushing Tennessee up 3-1.
Chattanooga would narrow the margin to one with their second roundtripper of the evening. This time it was LF Scott Schebler who would leave the yard, homering to center for his 13th longball of the year to make it 3-2. The Lookouts would go on to complete the comeback with their tally in the ninth before Tennessee responded with the walk-off hit.
Rhee (6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO) fired another quality start for the Smokies Thursday, though he did not factor in the decision after allowing a lone earned run on four hits in six solid innings. It was the 25-year-old’s seventh quality start of the year, in addition to his third in his last four outings. Lookouts starter and former Tennessee Smokie Nick Struck (5.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO) also did not factor in the decision for Chattanooga.
Smokies reliever Frank Batista (0.2 IP, 2 SO), who joined Tennessee along with Villanueva from Triple-A Iowa earlier in the day earned his first victory, while the trio of Jeff Lorick (0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER), Zach Cates (0.2 IP, 1 BB, 2 SO) and Tony Zych (1.0 IP, 1 SO) all notched holds. Lookouts relief man Juan Ramon Noriega (0.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER) suffered his third defeat of the year to drop to 3-3.
Silva (3-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI) led all Smokies with three hits in the contest, while Bruno (2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB), Villanueva (2-5, 1 RBI) and C Charlie Cutler (2-4) all collected multi-hit efforts as well for Tennessee. Mayora (3-4, 1 R, 1 2B_ with his three base knocks was the lone Lookouts batter to record two or more hits.
The Smokies and Lookouts are scheduled to face off in the second game of their five-game set Friday night in Kodak, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Tennessee is anticipated to give the ball to RHP Matt Loosen (3-2, 5.17), while Chattanooga is slated to send RHP Matt Shelton (2-1, 3.13) to the hill.
It’s the third Free Ride Friday of the season at Smokies Stadium, with one lucky fan leaving with a car thanks to Rusty Wallace Honda and Kia. In addition, fans will be able to check out the best fireworks show in town with Friday Night Fireworks presented by Pepsi, Coors Light, the Knoxville News Sentinel, WVLT and WIVK.
All Friday evening Smokies home contests are sponsored by Remote Area Medical and tickets are still available for that contest and the remainder of the 2014 home slate. They can be purchased online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at (865) 286-2300.
Listen to Manager Buddy Bailey’s postgame press conference below: