Smokies force deciding fifth game in SLNDS
KODAK — It took nearly every pitcher in the bullpen, but thanks to an offensive explosion, the Tennessee Smokies forced a do-or-die game five in the Southern League North Divisional Series.
The Smokies beat the Birmingham Barons 10-7 in front of 1,690 fans at Smokies Park Sunday.
The win evens the series 2-2 with the Barons. Game five, with a chance to face the Mobile BayBears for the Southern League title, is set for tonight in Smokies Park at 7:15 p.m.
In the SLDS, the BayBears closed out a 3-1 series victory over the Mississippi Braves with a 15-0 win at Mobile.
For the Smokies, who surrendered 10 walks and one hit batsman on the mound, every run counted Sunday.
“It wasn’t the prettiest way, but our offense, like they did in the second half, carried the club,” Smokies manager Buddy Bailey said. “They found a way to win the ballgame. When you have 10 walks and a hit batter, you’re lucky to hold on. It has to go into the offense’s hands.”
Starter Eduardo Figueroa made it just 2.1 innings before getting the hook, giving up three hits, two runs and four walks. Reliever A.J. Morris came in and pitched through the next 2.2 innings, picking up the win and holding the Barons to just one more run.
“A.J. changed the game,” Bailey said. “When we were down 2-0 with the bases loaded and one out, he comes in and gets back-to-back punch outs. That gave us a little momentum and then we came back.”
Down 2-0 early after Birmingham picked up runs in the first and the third, Tennessee finally got on the board in the third. Catcher Taylor Davis doubled on a fly ball into center field with one out on the board. Center fielder Matt Szczur drew a walk and, before Arismendy Alcantara came up to bat both men ended up on second and third. Alcantara sent a ground ball right up the gut of the defense, scoring both men and tying the game.
The Smokies took the lead in the fourth. Christian Villanueva opened the inning by drawing a walk. A bunt single from Rubi Silva put two base runners on and chased Birmingham starter Scott Snodgrass from the game. An RBI single from Jonathan Mota brought in Villanueva, giving the Smokies their first lead of the game.
“We never count us out,” Mota said. “We have a really good offensive team. We just have to do it. We have to try to take it one (at bat) at a time. That’s how we find the answer.”
A Szczur double would bring in Silva and Mota and put the Smokies up by three before the inning was done.
The Barons began picking away at the Smokies’ lead in the next inning. A Tyler Saladino RBI in the fifth was followed by a Micah Johnson RBI in the sixth, cutting Tennessee’s lead to one.
The Smokies responded with two more runs in the bottom of the sixth. Silva, who finished the game 4-for-4 at the plate, took first with a single. A sac bunt from John Andreoli put him in scoring position then Mota drew a walk. It was Davis’ turn to clear the bases, with a two-RBI double.
Three more runs came in the ninth for Tennessee on a Mota RBI triple and Szczur sac fly.
“Every inning when we put up extra runs you think we’re in pretty good shape, but when you go out and walk people, it’s never a safe lead and three errors didn’t help us either,” Bailey said. “(Tonight) is a game five. When we left Birmingham down 0-2, you’re thinking it’s a game at a time and our guys have done that. We’re at the fifth day and a lot of people would have pitched in the tent. Our guys have shown a lot of character.”
Szczur finished 1-for-3 with a double and three RBIs. Alcantara was 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Mota was 2-for-3 with a triple and three RBIs and Davis was 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs.
- From Contributed Reports