KODAK — Coming back from a rough road trip, the Tennessee Smokies unleashed a dominating performance, both on the mound and in the batter’s box to down the Mobile BayBears 8-1 in front of 3,257 fans at Smokies Stadium Thursday night.
With a 4-1 lead, the Smokies (8-13 second half, 41-49 overall) had to sit through a 62-minute rain delay, but still came back with the same shut-down defense and solid at-bats once the clouds cleared.
“Sometimes it can flip (after a rain delay),” Smokies manager Jimmy Gonzalez said. “You don’t know if it’s going to keep raining and we’ll get a short win or a if we’ll keep playing. The guys didn’t take their foot off the pedal.”
Tennessee put a crooked number up on the scoreboard early in the bottom of the first. Roberto Caro led off with a base hit into right field. Shortstop Nico Hoerner took first on a fielder’s choice that turned into a throwing error from BayBears shortstop Erick Salcedo. Vimael Machin batted in Caro with a single into right field. Johnny Pereda picked up an RBI, putting Hoerner across home plate for the 2-0 lead.
The Smokies stretched that lead to 4-0 in the second. Charcer Burks took first with a walk and was scored on a Christian Donahue RBI double. With two outs on the board, Hoerner brought Donahue in on a fly ball single into right field.
“When you come out there with a little cushion, as a pitching staff it plays big,” Gonzalez said. “These offensively did what they had to do. It was a big plus for the team.”
Mobile (9-11, 36-52) answered back with a run in the third off a Jahmai Jones RBI base hit tat brought in Brandon Marsh.
That would be the only run the BayBears would muster in the game as the Smokies pitching staff kept the door slammed shut. Erick Leal (1-0) won his first Double-A start after getting called up from Myrtle Beach on July 7. He went five innings with three hits, one run, two walks and six strikeouts.
“That was clutch,” Gonzalez said. “If we can do that, especially with Leal come in with his first start in Double-A and doing what he did, staying composed. I don’t know if he was nervous or not, but he didn’t show it.”
Tennessee pushed its lead back to four in the bottom of the sixth, an inning after a lengthy rain delay. Zach Davis, then stole second base. A Charcer Burks RBI base hit sent Davis scampering home for a 5-1 advantage.
“It’s about coming through in situations,” Gonzalez said. “We had some tough at bats in Montgomery where we didn’t do those things. It’s about getting the big hit at the right time or walking in a run. These guys collectively did it.”
The Smokies poured it on in the bottom of the seventh. Thanks to another lead-off baserunner, Caro again, Tennessee loaded the bags with just one out on the board. A walk from Jared Young was worth an RBI as Caro scored. A base hit from Zach Davis brought in Hoerner and Pereda, pushing the Smokies lead to 8-1.
“Our pitching staff just made quality pitches,” Gonzalez said. “That’s something, at times, we haven’t done and today we did it all the way through. When you do that, it doesn’t matter who is hitting. You put quality pitches in the zone, it’s hard to make contact.”
Zack Kelly (1-5) took the loss on the mound, going 4.1 innings with five hits, four runs, two walks and five strikeouts.
The Smokies and BayBears pick up game two of their five-game series tonight inside Smokies Stadium. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.