By Steve Kolbe
In the first matinee of the season, the Jacksonville Suns came ready to play and slipped past the Stars 6-5 on Sunday afternoon to even their record at 2-2. The scoring started early for the Suns against Stars starter Kyle Heckathorn, when leadoff man Jake Smolinski drew a walk and Ryan Patterson was given a base on balls right behind him. Walks have led to runs throughout the series, and that was the case again in the first inning when Shawn Bowman came through with and RBI single to give Jacksonville a 1-0 lead. Curt Smith made the score 2-0 with a double to right field that drove in Patterson. Smith would later score on an ground out by Jake Jefferies, and the Suns had their second three-run inning of the season and a 3-0 lead.
In the top of the second inning Khris Davis put Huntsville on the board when he hit his first home run of the season off of Suns starter Graham Taylor. Davis entered the game having gone 1-for-9 in the first three games of the series. His home run was the first for the Stars this season.
With the score 3-1, Kentrail Davis drew a two-out walk in the top of the fifth inning, and scored on Domnit Bolivar’s triple into the left field corner to make it a one-run game. Bolivar has tripled twice in the last three games. Kentrail Davis finished the day by going 3-for-4.
The Suns saw their three-run lead evaporate when Huntsville tied the game in the seventh, scoring the first of three straight unearned runs. Suns reliever Bryan Evans took over for Taylor and retired the first two batters he faced in the seventh. Then pinch hitter Lee Haydel singled, and that was followed by a Kentrail Davis walk. The Stars tied the game 3-3 on an error by third baseman Shawn Bowman, who’s throw couldn’t be handled by Smith at first and Haydel came in to score. Haydel has hit safely in three straight games, all as a pinch hitter.
Jacksonville took a 4-3 lead in the seventh when Smolinski once again walked to leadoff the inning, stole second, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Curt Smith. Smith finished the game going 2-for-3 with a pair of runs batted in. The stolen base by Smolinski was Jacksonville’s first of the season.
The Stars scored two more unearned runs in the top of the eighth when Angel Gonzalez and Hunter Morris scored the tying and go-ahead runs for a 5-4 lead.
Huntsville won earlier in the week with a late inning rally, but on Sunday Jacksonville turned the tables. Paul Gran reached base on an error to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. That set the stage for Jose Duarte who was called upon as a pinch hitter against Huntsville relief pitcher Santo Manzanillo, who has one of the best fastballs in the Brewers system. Duarte turned on a fastball, and sent a drive over the left field wall to put the Suns back in front 6-5. It was the Suns third home run in the first four games of the season.
Kyle Kaminska pitched the ninth for the Suns, and finished off the Stars by getting Bolivar to ground into a game-ending double play.
Graham Taylor was moved up in the starting rotation and pitched six innings for Jacksonville, allowing six hits and two runs. Kyle Heckathorn went five and two-thirds innings for Huntsville, allowing three hits and three runs. The two starting pitchers combined to strike out 14 batters. Heckathorn finished with eight strikeouts, while Taylor fanned six.
Jake Smolinski followed up his three-hit performance on Saturday with three walks and two runs scored on Sunday. Ryan Patterson finished 2-for-4 with a run scored, and Shawn Bowman went 1-for-3 with a run batted in.
Suns batters drew seven walks in the game, three of those base runners came around to score. In the first four games of the series, five of the 17 Suns hitters that have been given a base on balls have eventually scored.
Each of the first four games between the Suns and Stars have been decide by two runs or less. The series finale is Sunday with the first pitch scheduled for 12:05 PM. It’s a match up of right-handers, with R.J. Seidel on the mound for Hunstville and Omar Poveda scheduled to take the hill for Jacksonville.