KODAK – Jacksonville plated six runs as part of a big fifth inning and held off a late Tennessee comeback attempt that included a two-run homer from shortstop Addison Russell as the Suns topped the Smokies 9-7 on Sunday afternoon at Smokies Stadium.
The defeat was the fourth straight for Tennessee, who fell to 32-31, though the club maintained their one-game lead over the Chattanooga Lookouts for first place in the standings thanks to the Lookouts’ loss to the Jackson Generals. Jacksonville, meanwhile, improved to 38-25 since the midpoint of the season and have won 10 of 13 meetings with the Smokies this year.
Sunday’s announced crowd of 2,993 extended the team’s 2014 total attendance to 275,984, extending the franchise record for single season. The club broke the previous top mark from 2002 on Saturday evening, and has averaged 4,119 fans through the gates in Kodak this year.
Entering the final frame down five, Smokies RF Pin-Chieh Chen reached base with a single, his fourth hit of the game, and then scored when Russell left the yard for his 12th homer of the year to cut the deficit to three. 3B Christian Villanueva then reached on a fielder’s choice and came plateward on C Taylor Davis’ RBI double to left-center, bring the tying run to the dish. The rally would end, however, with reliever Nick Wittgren inducing a groundout to end the contest.
Jacksonville got the offense going early, plating two in the opening frame. 3B Alfredo Lopez reached base via a one-out walk, and then moved to third on C J.T. Realmuto’s double before coming across on 1B Viosergy Rosa’s run-scoring infield base knock to make it 1-0. Realmuto would then score on 2B Austin Barnes’ sacrifice fly to increase the advantage to two.
The Smokies answered by getting one of those tallies back two innings later. Chen starting things off with a single and then stole second, prior to scoring on 1B Lars Anderson’s line drive base hit to right, cutting their deficit to one.
That score would remain the same until the fifth, when the Suns broke the game open courtesy of their six-run frame. Lopez and RF Joe Benson each scored on wild pitches, while CF Isaac Galloway drew a bases-loaded walk and LF Brent Keys was hit by a pitch to force in another run, while starting pitcher Jon Link helped his own cause and capped the big inning thanks to a two-run single to center to push Jacksonville ahead 8-1.
That seven-run hole would be decreased slighty by Tennessee in the bottom half of the inning. Relief pitcher Tony Zych singled, while Chen slapped a double into the left-center field gap to place two runners in scoring position for 2B Stephen Bruno, who sent Zych in with an RBI groundout. Chen would later be brought in via Russell’s base hit to right, decreasing the Suns’ lead to 8-3.
The two teams would then trade a tally between the sixth and seven innings to keep the margin at five. Jacksonville scored after Galloway drove him Barnes with a run-scoring base knock, while the Smokies countered right back thanks to Bruno’s RBI base knock, his second RBI of the afternoon, to make it 9-4.
Lopez (2-4, 2 R, 1 BB) and Realmuto (2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB) paced the Jacksonville order with multi-hit efforts, while Chen (4-5, 3 R, 1 2B) led all hitters with four hits. In addition, Bruno (2-4, 2 RBI) and Anderson (2-4, 1 RBI) each tallied two base knocks for the Smokies.
Link (6.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO) earned the victory in his 2014 Suns debut after allowing three earned runs in six innings of work, while James Nygren (1.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 SO), Jheyson Manzueta (1.0 PI, 1 H) and Nick Wittgren combined to finish the job. Cubs starter Felix Doubront (4.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO), who was with the Smokies on a Major League Rehab Assignment, suffered the defeat after yielding four runs, three of which were earned, on five hits in 4.1 frames, while reliever Frank Batista (2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO) fired the final two scoreless frames.
With Jacksonville already clinching a series win, the Smokies will look to snap their four-game losing skid Monday evening in the fourth matchup of the series, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at Smokies Stadium. Tennessee is slated to give the nod to RHP C.J. Edwards (1-1, 2.31), while LHP Justin Nicolino (12-4, 3.05) is anticipated to take the mound for the Suns.
It’s the final McGhee Tyson Low Fare Monday of the regular season at Smokies Stadium, with hot dogs, popcorn, small Pepsi products and programs available for just one dollar each.
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 comments below: