By Steve Kolbe
The Suns scored twice in a ninth inning rally, but fell short in a 4-3 loss to the Mississippi Braves Saturday night at Trustmark Park.
The game was scoreless through the first six innings with Suns starter Graham Taylor allowing just two hits, and Braves starter David Hale surrendering only three singles. Jacksonville scored the first run of night in the seventh inning, when right fielder Kyle Jensen led off by hitting his eighth home run of the season to give the Suns a 1-0 edge.
Taylor ran into trouble in the Braves half of the seventh. With one out, Joe Terdoslavich walked and Christian Bethancourt and Keenan Wiley both singled to load the bases. The Suns left Taylor on the mound to face pinch hitter Ian Gac, who hit a hard grounder that glanced off the glove of third baseman Shawn Bowman and deflected into left field, with Terdoslavich and Bethancourt scoring to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.
Mississippi scored two more insurance runs in the eighth inning against reliever Evan Reed. Todd Cunningham singled to right and stole second base. Tim Smith then singled to left, driving in Cunningham to increase the lead to 3-1. Pinch runner Alden Carrithers stole second base, and he scored when Joe Terdoslavich doubled to the left field wall for a 4-1 Braves advantage.
The Suns rallied in the ninth inning against Braves closer Mark Lamm, scoring two runs on three hits. Kyle Jensen and Kyle Skipworth singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Curt Smith then drove in Jensen with a single to cut the lead to 4-2. Paul Gran’s sacrifice fly to right field plated Skipworth to make the score 4-3, but Lamm stuck out Jose Duarte to end the threat.
Suns shortstop Chris Gutierrez finished 2-for-4 with two singles and extended his hit streak to 15 games. He is batting .360 (20-for-56) during the streak. Not to be out done, Braves center fielder Todd Cunningham singled in his last at bat to extend his hit streak to 15 games. The longest hitting streak in the Southern League this season is a 16-game streak by Pensacola’s Henry Rodriguez.
Kyle Jensen and Curt Smith also finished with two hits for Jacksonville. Jensen hit his first home run in the month of June. Christian Bethancourt, Joe Terdoslavich, and Keenan Wiley had two hits each for Mississippi.
Suns manager Andy Barkett was ejected in the middle of the fourth inning. Curt Smith appeared to have stolen second base, when the throw from Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt got away from Phil Gosselin covering the bag. Smith was called out, and Barkett was then thrown out by third base umpire Matt McCoy when he argued the call. Barkett has been tossed out three times this season, and twice by the same umpiring crew.
Graham Taylor (4-6) pitched six and two-thirds innings, and had a two-hitter going into the seventh. He allowed two runs on six hits and stuck out four. David Hale (5-3) tossed seven innings, allowing four singles and the solo home run to Jensen. Hale entered the night having walked the fifth-most batters in the league, but on Saturday he didn’t issue a free pass. Mark Lamm wiggled his way out of the ninth inning jam to earn his eighth save of the season.
The Suns have scored the first run in all four games of the series, but have lost twice. Jacksonville is 27-7 this season when crossing the plate first. The Suns are 19-15 on the road this season, and are one of just three teams that can finish the first half with 20 or more road victories.
The series finale is Sunday from Trustmark Park, with the first pitch scheduled for 6:00 p.m. EST. RHP Matthew Neil (1-1, 4.67) will start his 6th game of the season for the Suns. LHP Sean Gilmartin (4-6, 3.40) takes the hill for his 14th start of the year for the Braves. Three of Gillmartin’s wins have been complete games, most in the Southern League.