By Steve Kolbe
The Suns began their brief three game home stand by exploding for a 10-4 win over the Pensacola Blue Wahoos on Sunday night in Jacksonville. The Suns have won three in a row at the Baseball Grounds, outscoring opponents by a combined 31-4. The Suns have scored at least 10 runs in each of their last three home games.
The Suns used the combination of aggressive base running and power to take the lead in the first inning against Blue Wahoos starter Tim Crabbe. Jake Smolinski led off the game with a walk, and promptly stole second base. With one out, Curt Smith hit a two-run home run deep to left field to put the Suns ahead 2-0. Smith has smashed three home runs in his last five games, and six round trippers in his last 14 games after hitting just one in the first two months of the season. The Suns have now hit at least one home run in six straight home games.
Quick starts have been the norm for the Suns in the second half, scoring at least one run in the first inning in four straight games and five of the last six. Jacksonville improved to 30-13 when scoring the first run of the game, and the Suns are 18-8 when scoring a run in the first inning.
Jacksonville used the long ball again in the second inning to increase the lead to 3-0, when Jeff Dominguez hit his fourth home run of the season. Dominguez has hit two of his four home runs against Pensacola. The Suns have hit 17 home runs in the last 15 games.
For the third straight game the Suns had built a 3-0 lead, and for the third straight time it would vanish. With Omar Poveda transferred to New Orleans, Suns lefty James Leverton made his first start of the season and breezed through the first two innings. In the third, Leverton issued free passes to Mark Fleury and Ryan LaMarre. With one out, Didi Gregorius tripled down the first base line driving in both base runners to cut the Suns lead to 3-2. Brodie Greene then sent a sacrifice fly deep to right field, with the speedy Gregorius coasting across the plate to even the score 3-3.
Crabbe continued to struggle with his control in the fifth inning, walking pitcher Kyle Kaminska and Jake Smolinski both on four pitches. Paul Gran cleared the bases when he hit a three-run home run to left field to hand the Suns a 6-3 advantage. It was Gran’s first home run since April 16, when he hit a two-run homer against Pensacola’s Curtis Partch in the Suns twelfth game of the season.
Blue Wahoos first baseman Beau Mills hit a solo shot to deep right field off Suns reliever Kyle Kaminska in the sixth to cut the Suns lead to 6-4. In the home half of the inning, the Suns had four straight hitters reach base with two outs. Pinch hitter Donnie Webb, Jake Smolinski, and Paul Gran each singled, with Gran’s base knock driving in Webb to make the score 7-4.
In the seventh inning, the Suns had five straight batters reach base as they batted around for the eighth time in an inning this season. Jose Duarte singled to center, Chris Gutierrez walked, and Jeff Dominguez singled to load the bases with one out. Suns pitcher Josh Schmidt drove in his first run of the season when he bunted for a base hit, with Duarte scoring from third base and it was 8-4 Suns. Suns pitchers now have three RBI this season. On a 3-2 count, Jake Smolinski was hit by Chris Manno, with Gutierrez scoring to add to the lead 9-4. With two outs, Curt Smith drove in Dominguez with the final run of the night.
Jacksonville improved to 13-8 overall this season against Pensacola (6-5 at home, 7-3 on the road), and are one win away from claiming the first-ever season series against their in-state rival. Sunday’s game was the fifth time this season that the Suns scored 10 or more runs in a game.
Curt Smith, Paul Gran, and Jeff Dominguez each finished with two hits. Smith extended his hitting streak to six games going 7-for-21 with three home runs, seven RBI, and five runs scored during the streak. Gran drove in half of the Suns eight runs on the night. Jake Smolinskii reached base all five times at the plate with three walks, a single, and hit by a pitch. Smolinski and Dominguez each scored twice. The Suns had at least one base runner in every inning except the fourth. Every Suns player with the exception of Shawn Bowman reached base at least once. The Suns finished with 11 hits (8 singles and 3 home runs).
Left fielder Bryson Smith had a perfect night in the loss, collecting half of the Blue Wahoos eight hits in the game. He finished 4-for-4 with three singles and a double. It’s the seventh time this season that a player has recorded four hits in a game against the Suns.
Kyle Kaminska (6-3) allowed a solo home run in two innings of work to earn his second win in the Suns last seven games. He also helped the offense with a walk and a run scored. Josh Schmidt pitched the final three innings without allowing a hit to earn his first save of the season. Tim Crabbe (3-5) allowed six runs on three hits over four innings in the loss for Pensacola. He tied his season high by walking six batters, three of the free passes came in to score. Entering the game, Crabbe had surrendered four home runs in 73 innings. He gave up three in just four innings to the Suns.
Game two of the series is Monday with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. LHP Jose Alvarez (2-4, 4.00) is set to make his 15th start of the season for the Suns. LP Toni Cingrani (2-1, 2.15) will take the mound for the Blue Wahoos.