Jacksonville right fielder Joe Benson recorded a game-high three hits, including an eighth inning solo homer, while Smokies starter Corey Black suffered the tough loss after firing a single-game career-high seven solid frames as the Suns topped Tennessee 4-2 in front of an announced crowd of 6,992 on Friday evening at Smokies Stadium.
With the victory, the Suns up their record to 12-9 in the second half, as well as a 2-0 mark in the series. Tennessee, meanwhile, fell to 12-10 in the second half, and also dropped to below .500 to a 45-46 overall record.
The Smokies got the scoring started with a single tally in the third. LF Pin-Chieh Chen drew a free pass, and then stole second, before coming home on SS Addison Russell’s run-scoring base knock in the hole between shortstop and third to push Tennessee ahead 1-0.
Jacksonville, however, would answer with a run of their own in the subsequent frame. 3B Austin Barnes singled to left, prior to coming across on LF Brady Shoemaker’s RBI two-bagger to right-center.
The Suns would then snag their first advantage of the evening via a wild pitch in the sixth. Pinch hitter Alfredo Lopez led off the inning with a base hit up the middle, took second on a sacrifice bunt and then third on a groundout, before coming plateward when a pitch skipped to the backstop, making it 2-1 Suns.
It would become a two-run margin in the eighth thanks to scrappy play from the Suns. Following pinch hitter Brent Keys’ base on balls, SS Austin slapped a single to center to advance Keys to third, with Nola then breaking up a potential double play at second to allow the inning to continue and plate Keys.
Tennessee would then counter immediately thanks to 3B Christian Villanueva’s longball. The 23-year-old ripped a solo blast into the soon-to-be-completed deck of Calhoun’s At The Yard in left-center field, his second roundtripper with the club this season.
However the Suns subsequently answered back with a roundtripper of their own, with Benson leaving the yard on a solo blast to center. It was the seventh big fly of the year for the outfielder, increasing the Jacksonville lead back to two and cap the scoring.
Russell (2-4, 1 RBI), Geiger (2-3, 1 R, 1 BB) and Villanueva (2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI) all recorded multi-hit efforts for the Smokies, while Benson (3-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI) was the lone Suns batter to collect two base knocks in the contest. It marked the second straight two-hit night for both Russell and Geiger, with Russell having collected hits in four of his last six at bats.
Black (7.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 SO) suffered the loss despite a solid outing, fanning eight batters while yielding two earned runs on six hits in a single-game career-high seven frames. It was the second quality start in as many outings for the right-hander, who has allowed just three earned runs over his last 23.0 innings pitched, adding 18 strikeouts.
Suns starter Jay Rogers (5.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 0 SO) earned his fourth victory of the year after five frames, while relievers Greg Nappo (2.0 IP) and Matt Ramsey (1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 SO) combined for 3.1 shutout frames in support of Rogers. Nappo recorded his seventh hold of the year, and Ramsey notched his seventh save of 2014.
Tennessee and Jacksonville are set to square off again Saturday night for the third game of the series, with first pitch scheduled for 6:15 p.m. at Smokies Stadium. RHP Pierce Johnson (2-2, 3.79) is expected to take the hill for the Smokies, while RHP Robert Morey (0-0, 4.05) is slated to take the hill for the Suns.
Fans will want to come early Saturday night, with the first 1,500 fans receiving a Homer the Hound Garden Gnome courtesy of U.S. Cellular, WBIR and Q100. In addition, the Smokies will be wearing special throwback jerseys as replicas of the 1937 Chicago Cubs jerseys, which will be auctioned off, with proceeds to benefit Remote Area Medical. Following the contest, the Leon Thomas Band will be performing as part of the Smokies’ Saturday Night Concert series.
Tickets for that game and the remainder of the Smokies’ 2014 home schedule are still available and can be purchased online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 286-2300.
Listen to Manager Buddy Bailey’s post game press conference below: