By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns suffered one of their worst defeats of the season, falling 13-4 to the Braves on Thursday at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Mississippi. The Suns most lopsided loss prior to Thursday was 11-0 against Mobile. It’s the third time this season that the Suns have allowed 10 or more runs in a game (10-5 loss vs. Chattanooga April 11th; 11-0 loss vs. Mobile May 6th).
The Suns jumped in front in the second inning against Braves starter Gary Moran, when Shawn Bowman led off with a solo home run to left field for a 1-0 Jacksonville lead. It was Bowman’s sixth home run of the season, and his first in 23 games.
For the second straight night, the Braves came back in the home half of the second. Christian Bethancourt singled and Barrett Kleinknecht reached base on an error by Suns third baseman Shawn Bowman. After a force out, Braves pitcher Gary Moran helped his own cause with a single to right-center, with Bethancourt scoring on the play to tie the score 1-1.
Mississippi took the lead for good in the third inning against Suns starter Jose Alvarez. Todd Cunningham singled and advanced to second on a fielders choice. Tim Smith then delivered a RBI single to hand the Braves a 2-1 advantage.
The Braves gave the home fans a lot to cheer about in the fourth inning, sending 11 men to the plate and scoring seven runs on six hits. Six different players drove in at least one run. Joe Terdoslavich, Christian Bethancourt, and Barrett Kleinknecht started the inning by connecting for three straight singles to load the bases with no outs. A ground out by Cory Harrilchak pushed Terdoslavich across the plate to increase the lead to 3-1. After a walk to the pitcher Moran loaded the bases for a second time in the inning, the Suns made the call to the bullpen replacing Alvarez with Zach Neal.
Neal was greeted by Phil Gosselin, who hammered a double into the gap in right-center, with two runs scoring to build a 5-1 lead for the Braves. Gosselin is 5-for-9 with nine runs batted in when batting with the bases loaded this season. Before the inning was over Todd Cunningham, Tim Smith, and Joe Terdoslavich had added RBI singles and Joe Leonard drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and Mississippi was up 9-1. Neal retired just one of the five batters that he faced in the inning, allowing three runs on four hits. The seven runs are the most that the Suns have allowed in an inning this season.
The Suns scored two runs in the fifth inning. Kyle Skipworth led off with a walk, and scored when Jeff Dominguez hit his second triple of the season. Curt Smith then drove in Dominguez with a sacrifice fly to make the score 9-3.
But the Braves had another big inning in the sixth, scoring four more runs on just one hit, two hit batters, and a walk. With Suns reliever Josh Schmidt on the mound, Cunningham led off the inning with a walk and Leonard was hit by a pitch. After Tim Smith popped out, Terdoslavich hit a ground-rule double that bounced over the wall in right-center field, with Cunningham scoring to make the score 10-3.
Corey Madden entered the game to pitch for the Suns and on a rare play, Bethancourt struck out but reached first safely on a wild pitch to load the bases with Braves for the third time in the game. Barrett Kleinknecht was then hit by a pitch, with Leornard strolling home for an 11-3 Braves lead. Cory Harrilchak then drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and another run crossed the plate on a Madden wild pitch. By the end of the inning, the Braves were in cruise control up 13-3.
In the eighth inning Curt Smith was hit by a pitch, and Chris Gutierrez increased his hit streak to 13 games with a single on a ground ball that hit the pitcher. Jake Smolinski drove in the Suns final run of the game with single, with Smith scoring.
The Suns were held to five singles in the game. The 17 hits by the Braves are the most that Jacksonville has surrendered in a single game this season. Mississippi scored 14 runs on 18 hits in a 14-7 win last week against Tennessee.
Phil Gosselin, Tim Smith, and Joe Terdoslavich each finished with three hits for the Braves. Eight different Braves players scored at least one run, with Christian Bethancourt crossing the plate three times.
Suns starter Jose Alvarez pitched just three and a-third innings, his shortest outing of the season He dropped to 1-4 on the year, allowing six runs on eight hits. Alvarez has gone winless in his last eight starts since his lone victory May 1st in Birmingham. Braves starter Gary Moran (2-5) tossed seven and two-thirds innings for the win, and struck out a season-high eight batters. At the plate, Moran went 2-for-2 with a RBI, and scored a run. He departed in the eighth inning after being hit on the right ankle by a ground ball.
The Suns will look to get back on track in game three of the series Friday night, with the first pitch scheduled for 7:00 p.m. local time from Trustmark Park. RHP Bryan Evans (1-4, 3.28) will start his 13th game of the season for the Suns. LHP Luis Avilan (1-4, 3.40) takes the hill for the Braves.