By Steve Kolbe
Suns catcher Kyle Skipworth hit for the cycle to lead the Suns past the Lookouts 13-10 in a slugfest at AT&T Field in Chattanooga on Saturday night. The win snapped the Suns four game slide, and also ended Chattanooga’s six game win streak.
The scheduled starter for the Lookouts Nathan Eovaldi didn’t take the mound as expected. Instead, right-hander Luis Vasquez was pressed into service and started a game for the first time this season. The Suns came out swinging against Vasquez and sent nine men to the plate in the first inning.
Leadoff man Danny Black doubled to right field to start the game, and Jake Smolinski drove in Black with a RBI single to put the Suns in front 1-0 before many fans had even taken their seats. With two outs, Kyle Skipworth hit a ground rule double to put runners on second and third and bring Kyle Jensen to the plate. Jensen capped the inning by smashing his sixth home run of the season, a three-run blast to right-center field for a 4-0 Suns advantage. The Suns improved their record to 11-2 when scoring a run in the first inning. Jensen and Skipworth share the team lead with six round-tippers each.
In the second, Jacksonville added another run when Danny Black led off for the second straight inning, this time reaching base on an error by the pitcher. After Paul Gran bunted his way on and Jake Smolinski was hit by a pitch, the bases were loaded with no outs. Shawn Bowman then grounded into a force out, with Black thrown out at the plate. With one out, Kyle Skipworth’s hit a sacrifice fly to right field with Gran tagging from third to increase the lead to 5-0.
The Lookouts scored their first run of the night against Suns starter Matthew Neil in the home half of the second, when Travis Denker led off the inning with his third home run of the season to cut the lead to 5-1. The Lookouts have hit 10 home runs this season against the Suns, their most against any club.
Having just arrived at the ballpark prior to the game, reliever Eammon Portice took over on the hill for Vasquez in the third, and had similar results. The Suns scored to make it 6-1 when Matthew Neil walked with two outs, and Danny Black drove him in with a single to right field. Black reached base in each of the first three innings.
In the fourth, Jake Smolinski walked to lead off the inning, and Shawn Bowman singled behind him. With two on and no outs, Skipworth drove in his second run of the night with a single. Later in the inning, Russell Mitchell drove in his tenth run of the year, with Bowman coming in to score on a ground out and the Suns had built an 8-1 advantage.
The Lookouts came to life in the bottom of the fourth against Neil. Singles by Travis Denker and Brahiam Maldonado, and a walk to Pedro Baez loaded the bases with one out. Jake Lemmerman then drove in the first run of the inning, when Bowman committed an error on a grounder hit in his direction with Baez scoring to make the score 8-2 Suns. Matt Wallach brought the Lookouts closer with a base-clearing double into the right field corner, and at the end of four innings Jacksonville led 8-5.
Before the fifth inning began, the Lookouts made a call to the bullpen and summoned another newcomer, Bret Montgomery. After striking out the first batter of the inning, five straight Suns hitters would reach base against Montgomery. Danny Black hit his second double of the night, Paul Gran scratched out an infield single, and Jake Smolinski drove in Black with a single. With the score 9-5 Suns, Shawn Bowman walked on four pitches to load the bases and set the stage for Kyle Skipworth. With one mighty swing, Skipworth sent the ball sailing high into the Chattanooga night and over the right field fence for the Suns first grand slam of the season. By the end of the inning, the Suns had scored five runs on four hits to expand the lead to 13-5. Jacksonville scored runs in each of the first five innings in the game. During their four game losing streak, the Suns had plated a total of only nine runs.
Chattanooga chipped away by scoring three runs in the bottom half of the fifth. Luis Nunez singled to lead off the inning, and scored on Travis Denker’s double to straightaway center. The inning was highlighted by a no-doubt-about-it two-run home run to left field off the bat of Pedro Baez, and the score was 13-8. Baez has hit a two-run homer in two straight games, and he now has 26 runs batted in. Suns relief pitcher Zach Neal took over for Matthew Neil and struck out Jake Lemmerman for the final out of the inning.
The Lookouts didn’t go away quietly, and scored two more runs in the seventh. J.T. Wise single to left, and Denker doubled behind him. Baez cashed in a run with a ground out with Wise scoring and Denker moving to third on the play. With two outs, Lemmerman singled to drive in Denker to cut the lead to 13-10, but that’s as close as Chattanooga would get.
The 13 runs are the most that the Suns have scored in a game this season. In the first eight games of the season series against the Lookouts, Jacksonville had scored a total of 26 runs.
During the 2011 campaign the Suns hit four grand slams, third-most in the Southern League. Alex Romero, Luke Montz, Kevin Mattison, and Jake Smolinski each hit one.
For the Suns, Kyle Skipworth finished 4-for-4 and hit for the cycle. He doubled in the first, singled in the third, hit his grand slam in the fifth, and tripled in the seventh. Skipworth drove in six runs and scored twice. Danny Black went 3-for-6, drove in a run, and scored two others. Jake Smolinski was 2-for-4 with two RBI and three runs scored. Paul Gran had two hits and scored twice.
For the Lookouts, Travis Denker went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a home run. He drove in two runs and scored four times. Nick Buss, Brahiam Maldonado, and Matt Wallach each finished with two hits in the losing cause.
Matthew Neil pitched four and two-thirds innings in his second start for the Suns. He allowed eight runs on 10 hits and did not figure in the decision. Zach Neal tossed two and a-third innings to earn his third win of the season. Evan Reed struck out two of the three batters he faced in a flawless ninth to record his ninth save.
In the spot start, Luis Vasquez allowed five runs on five hits in the first two innings to fall to 1-2. The Suns are 2-7 this season against the Lookouts, with both of the wins coming against Vasquez. The 13 runs are the most that the Lookouts have surrendered in a game this season.
The series finale is set for Sunday night from AT&T Field with the first pitch scheduled for 6:15 p.m. The Suns will send RHP Omar Poveda (3-2, 4.54) to the mound for his ninth start of the season. Jacksonville will try to hand RHP Ethan Martin (5-0, 3.28) his first loss of the year. Martin is one of only two starting pitchers in the Southern League with a perfect record.