Smokies blasted by Jacksonville, 18-1
Tennessee Smokies pitcher Matt Loosen throws against Jacksonville on Friday night at Smokies Park.
KODAK — The planned postgame fireworks show at Smokies Park Friday night was upstaged by the Jacksonville Suns in the opening game of a five-game series against the Tennessee Smokies.
The Suns quieted the 6,030 fans in attendance early on with a seven-run first inning and built on the lead all night long in an 18-1 rout of the Smokies in a matchup of two pennant chasing teams.
The win allowed Jacksonville (36-25, 72-59 overall) to keep pace with the Southern League South Division leading Mississippi Braves. The loss was the second straight for Tennessee (32-29, 65-65 overall) and their third in the last four games after having a six-game winning streak snapped.
“It wasn’t very good,” Smokies skipper Buddy Bailey said of his team’s performance. “They scored a touchdown and the pitcher added the extra point in the first inning and it really didn’t stop. They had another inning with a touchdown and had a safety and a couple half safeties. I’ve never seen a game where a team had to face 26 guys in the first three innings, and we were on the wrong end of that.”
The Suns jumped all over Smokies starting pitcher Felix Pena (2-3) from the start, pushing seven runs across in the first inning and roughing Pena up for 12 earned runs on eight hits in just 2.2 innings.
J.T. Realmuto opened the scoring with an RBI single, and Viosergy Rosa added a run scoring single as well. Joe Benson then drilled a three-run double, clearing the bases and upping the lead to 5-0. Terrence Dayleg added an RBI double, and Jacksonville pitcher Jose Urena plated a run on a safety squeeze bunt that pushed the margin to 7-0. It was also the first out of the game recorded by Pena, and the seven runs in the first inning was the first time the Smokies had allowed that many in the opening frame since July 3, 2005.
“It just shows how poorly we played,” Bailey said. “We had too many walks. We walked seven guys in the first three innings, and our control was bad. When we put it in the zone, it was somewhere where they could hit it.”
The Suns continued to shine in the second frame, as Benson crushed a two-run homer to center, scoring Brady Shoemaker to make it 9-0.
Jacksonville’s offensive outburst wasn’t over there, as they played six more runs in the third inning. Austin Barnes drove in the first run with a two-out RBI double, and Realmuto followed with a run scoring single. Benson drew a bases loaded walk for his sixth RBI of the game, and Dayleg tagged a three-run two-bagger to make it 15-0.
Barnes tagged a solo homer to left in the in the top of the fourth inning off reliever Matt Loosen, who surrendered four earned runs on four hits in 3.1 innings of work.
The Smokies finally dented the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth inning. Christian Villanueva led off the inning with a ground-rule double down the left field line and moved to third on a single by Taylor Davis.
Stephen Bruno followed with a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Villanueva and drawing a loud roar from the crowd for the first run. Jae-Hoon Ha followed by grounding into an inning-ending double play to leave the score at 16-1.
Jacksonville added another tally in the top of the seventh, as Realmuto scored on a double by Rosa to extend the lead to 17-1.
Tennessee loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth but failed to score. A fly ball and a grounder up the middle for a force out ended the final scoring threat of the evening for the Smokies.
The Suns added another run in the ninth on a leadoff solo home run from Barnes, his second of the game and 10th of the season, to make it 18-1.
Urena (12-8) picked up the win after allowing one earned run on four hits in seven complete innings of work.
Barnes and Realmuto had three hits each in the win, while Rosa, Benson and Dayleg added a pair of hits apiece.
Seven different players had hits for the Smokies in the loss, with Villanueva’s fifth inning double being the lone extra-base hit.
Blake Logan tossed two shutout innings to close out the game for the Suns. Loosen, Andrew McKirahan and Frank Batista combined to pitch the final 6.1 innings for Tennessee and saved the bullpen with nine crucial games left in the season and four in this series.
-By Matt Daniels, Tribune Sports Editor