By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns took a two-run lead into the ninth inning and hung on for a 4-3 win over the Tennessee Smokies on Wednesday night at Smokies Park. The Suns improved to 31-1 when leading going into the ninth.
The Suns provided the fireworks in the first inning against Smokies starter Dallas Beeler. Chris Gutierrez hit a solo home run to left to put the Suns in front 1-0. With the blast, Gutierrez established a new career high with four home runs on the year. It’s the first time since 2008 that he’s had more than two in a season. With two outs, Kyle Skipworth reached on an error when Beeler dropped a throw at first base. Jeff Dominguez then drove in Skipworth with a single to left to increase the lead to 2-0. The Suns have scored at least one run in the first inning 29 times this season, with a record of 19-9 when they cross the plate in the first.
Tennessee drew even in the home half of the first against Suns starter Zach Neal. After Jim Adduci singled, Greg Rohen belted his first Double-A home run, a two-run blast to left field to tie the game 2-2. Rohen had hit a career-best 12 home runs for the Daytona Cubs of the Florida State League before he was promoted to the Smokies on July 2.
In the fourth inning, Jeff Dominguez doubled to the left field corner, and scored when Shawn Bowman drove in his 40th run of the season with a single to center to give the Suns the edge 3-2. Bowman is the first Suns player this season to reach the 40 RBI mark.
Jacksonville tacked on another run in the fifth inning. Gutierrez led off with an infield single, and Skipworth singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Jeff Dominguez hit a ground ball to short, with Gutierrez racing home with an important run to give the Suns a 4-2 advantage.
After collecting five hits in the first two innings, the Smokies were held to just two hits from the third until the ninth inning against Suns pitchers Zach Neal and Kyle Kaminska. In the ninth, Jae-Hoon Ha led off with a single, and stole second base. Kaminska then struck out Jim Adduci, and enticed Greg Rohen into a ground out, but couldn’t get the final out.
With two away, the Southern League’s top RBI man Justin Bour added to his total by driving in Ha with a single to left to cut the Suns lead to 4-3. Bour now has 61 runs batted in this season. Jacksonville summoned closer A.J. Ramos from the bullpen, and he issued just his eighth walk of the season when he put pinch hitter Jaun Apodaca on base. With runners on first and second, Ramos denied the Smokies the game-tying run when he struck out Mike Brenly to end the game.
The Suns have won three straight over the Smokies. Tennessee manager Buddy Bailey has 1,599 career wins over 24 seasons as a minor league manager. His next win will make him one of just four active managers with at least 1,600 victories.
Left handed pitcher Rob Rasmussen was scheduled to start for the Suns, but the Marlins traded him along with third baseman Matt Dominguez to the Houston Astros in exchange for 36-year-old slugger Carlos Lee. Rasmussen, the Marlins second round pick in the 2010 draft, was 4-7 with a 3.90 ERA in 16 starts for Class A Jupiter this season. Dominguez was batting .234 with seven home runs and 46 RBI’s with Tiple-A New Orleans. He was the Marlins first round draft pick in 2007.
Zach Neal (4-6) was pressed into service and started his ninth game of the season. Neal allowed two runs on seven hits over seven innings, six singles and a home run. A.J. Ramos recorded the final out for his seventh save. Smokies starter Dallas Beeler (3-6) allowed four runs on nine hits in four and a-third innings of work, and lost for the first time in five weeks.
Chris Gutierrez finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Jeff Dominguez went 2-for-4 with two RBI’s. Justin Bour was the only Smokies player with more than one hit. Eight of Tennessee’s nine hits were singles. The Suns have had 31 of their 84 games this season decided by a single run, with a 14-17 record.
Game two of the series is Thursday night from Smokies Park with the first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. RHP Matthew Neil (1-3, 5.53) will start his eighth game of the season for the Suns. He’s lost his last three decisions. LHP Eric Jokisch (3-1, 3.25) will take the mound for Tennessee. He suffered his first loss of the season June 25 at Jacksonville, when he allowed 10 runs on nine hits in a relief appearance in the Suns 11-3 win.