By Steve Kolbe
It hasn’t happened often, but Suns closer A.J. Ramos was unable to lock down a win for Jacksonville on Friday night at AT&T Field, with the Chattanooga Lookouts scoring the game-tying run in the 10th inning, and an inning later winning in walk-off fashion when left fielder Nick Buss hit a three run home run for a 6-3 victory. All eight of the Suns extra inning games this season have been played on the road, with Jacksonville 4-4 in those games.
The Lookouts have won the first four games of the series by a combined count of 25-11. The Suns are just 3-11 against the Lookouts this season, and have won just two of the nine games played in the Volunteer State.
Jacksonville dented the scoreboard first on Friday against Lookouts starter Zack Lee. Kyle Jensen belted a solo home run to right field in the top of the second inning to put the Suns in front 1-0. Jensen leads the Suns, and is tied for third in the Southern League with 18 round trippers this season. Four of his 18 homers have come at the expense of Lookouts pitching.
The Lookouts responded in the home half of the second against Suns lefty Brian Flynn. With one out, Luis Nunez singled to start the rally. Brahiam Maldonado followed with a double to the gap in left-center field, with the speedy Nunez scoring all the way from first base to tie the game 1-1.
In the fourth inning the Lookouts put together a two-out rally against Flynn. After J.T. Wise and Blake Smith struck out, Chattanooga collected three straight singles. Nunez again record the first hit in the inning, and Maldonado singled to put runners on first and third. C.J Retherford then sent a pop up into shallow right field that fell just out of the reach of Suns second baseman Paul Gran, with Nunez coasting home on the bloop single to give the Lookouts a 2-1 edge.
With the game in the hands of both bullpens, the Suns faced three Lookouts pitchers in the eighth inning. Paco Rodriguez gave up back-to-back singles to Ben Lasater and Kyle Skipworth to start the eighth. Rodriguez then turned the game over to Chris Withrow, who struck out Kyle Jensen, but then walked Danny Pertusati on four pitches to load the bases. On a delivery to Paul Gran, Withrow’s pitch went all the way to the backstop with Lasater hustling home on the pass ball to even the score 2-2. Withrow suffered an injury on the pitch and was forced to leave the game.
With Lookouts closer Steven Ames on the mound in the 10th inning, Danny Pertusati tripled to straight-away center. Donnie Webb followed with an infield single with Pertusati crossing the plate to give the Suns a 3-2 edge.
With the lead, and looking to snap their losing skid, Jacksonville summoned A.J. Ramos from the bullpen. Rafael Ynoa grounded out to first, and Jake Lemmerman went down on strikes. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th, J.T. Wise hit his fourth double of the series to keep the Lookouts hopes alive.
Blake Smith came to the plate and fell behind in the count 0-2. That normally means lights out with Ramos on the mound, but with the Lookouts down to their last strike, Smith doubled to right field with Wise scoring the equalizer. It’s just the fourth time this season that Ramos has failed to lock down a save in 21 opportunities.
Things went from bad to worse in the bottom of the eleventh inning. After singles by Aaron Miller and Griff Erickson, Nick Buss stepped in and smashed his sixth home run of the season over the right field wall to hand the Lookouts a walk-off 6-3 win. Ramos has allowed just two home runs in 61 innings of work this season. Ramos gave up the long ball for the first time since May 2nd, when Birmingham Barons first baseman Andy Wilkins hit a two-run homer against him.
Zack Cox went 3-for-6 with three singles. Kyle Jensen and Danny Pertusati each collected two hits. Suns batters struck out 11 times in the game, and have gone down on strikes 48 times in the series. Luis Nunez finished the night 3-for-5 and scored two runs for the Lookouts. Rafael Ynoa, Griff Erickson, and Brahiam Maldonado each were 2-for-5.
The Lookouts have found their way to the win column in six of last seven games, and improved to 18-11 at home in the second half. The Suns fell to 9-15 on the road, and have lost a season-high five straight road games. Jacksonville’s six-game overall losing streak is the longest by the club since a six-game slid May 6th-11th, when the Suns were outscored 26-3 and shutout three times.
Suns starter Brian Flynn allowed two runs on seven hits, and struck out four without walking a batter in five innings. Lookouts starter Zach Lee also lasted five innings, giving up a run on six hits. A.J. Ramos (3-2) allowed four runs, all earned, on five hits over two innings in the loss. Ramos had allowed just five earned runs all season entering the game. Steven Ames (2-3) tossed two innings for the Lookouts in the win.
The Suns will try to salvage the series finale on Saturday with the first pitch slated for 7:15 PM from AT&T Field in Chattanooga. LHP Jose Alvarez (5-7, 4.10) will start his 22nd game of the season for Jacksonville. RHP Andres Santiago (0-0, 3.60) is set to start his first game of the season for Chattanooga. The Suns havn’t been swept in a series this season.