KODAK — Mistakes? They made a few.
The Tennessee Smokies committed four errors in a fourth-inning disaster that doomed any hopes of a Southern League North Divisional series title. The Smokies gave up four runs in the fourth, eventually losing 7-4 to the Birmingham Barons in front of 2,042 fans at Smokies Park Monday night.
“That inning, we had one out and two free runners on base and four errors in the matter of two different hitters,” Smokies manager Buddy Bailey said. “We could have got out of it, but it changed the momentum. We’re basically going home because of charity.”
The Barons begin their best-of-five series against the Mobile BayBears in the Southern League Championship series Wednesday in Mobile.
Smokies starter Neil Ramirez wasn’t sharp from the beginning, but the fourth finally ended his day. Ramirez gave up a base hit to Birmingham’s Tyler Saladino to open the inning. After forcing a fly out Ramirez walked the bases loaded and Bailey pulled the plug. Matt Loosen entered the game and was a warrior, pitching 5.1 innings and giving up just three hits and one earned run.
“Loosen dominated the game,” Bailey said. “We would be sitting here talking about going to the finals and the job he did for us tonight if we had won. But we didn’t make the plays.”
The plays were routine, but turned into disasters. Two errors on one play sent three runners in, breaking up the 2-2 tie. A third error helped score a fourth run and the Smokies had their work cut out for them over the next five innings.
In the bottom of the fifth Tennessee pulled within two on a Javier Baez two-run homer. With runners on first and second and two outs, the Smokies could get no closer with John Andreoli grounding out to Barons third baseman Cody Puckett.
Loosen gave up just three hits and one earned run over five and 1/3 innings, but the offensive firepower that had pulled the Smokies close and won the previous two games disappeared against Barons relievers Ryan Kussmaul and Cody Winiarski. Tennessee managed just two hits over the final 4.1 innings.
The Smokies went down 1-2-3 in the sixth and seventh. In the bottom of the eighth with a runner on, Jonathan Mota popped out to end the inning. Arismendy Alcantara got on base in the ninth, getting a single with two outs on the board. But the Baez magic was gone, with the Chicago Cubs No. 1 prospect striking out on three straight pitches to end the game.
“Their closer (Winiarski) is legit,” Bailey said. “We hoped we wouldn’t see that kid tonight. We got one hit off him. We had some chances early on the kid, but we couldn’t get an extra base hit.”
Tennessee actually took an early lead in the game, with Christian Villanueva knocking in Matt Szczur in the first. The Barons took over in the second with RBIs from Brandon Jacobs and Mike Blanke.
The Smokies tied the game in the bottom of the second on an Alcantara RBI.
-From Contributed Reports