By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns surrendered a season-high six home runs to the Huntsville Stars in a 10-5 loss on Sunday afternoon at Joe Davis Stadium. The Stars have hit a total 47 home runs this season, with seven of them coming in the last two games against Suns pitching.
After a 10 minute delay due to rain, Huntsville got right to work in the bottom of the first by sending eight men to the plate against Suns starter Bryan Evans. The first two batters reached base, when Lee Haydel led off with a single and Josh Prince walked. With one out, Hunter Morris blistered a triple to right field with both runners scoring to put the Stars in front 2-0. Morris drove in three runs and scored twice in the Stars win in game one of the series, and he would be a factor again throughout the day. Hainley Statia added a run when he jumped on the first pitch that he saw from Evans, hitting a double to right field, with Morris cruising home to make the score 3-0.
The Suns scored their first run of the game in the second inning against Stars pitcher Johnnie Lowe. Curt Smith hit the first of his three singles on the day, and moved to second base on a fielders choice. After a Shawn Bowman walk put runners on first and second, Jose Duarte drove in his fifth run of the season with a single to right field, with Smith scoring from second to cut the lead to 3-1. Duarte had gone without an RBI since April 20 (72 games).
In the third inning, Paul Gran and Chris Gutierrez both singled against Lowe to start a rally, and with two outs Curt Smith singled to drive in two runs to even the score 3-3. The Suns scored all five of their runs in the game after there were two outs in an inning.
In the home half of the third, leadoff man T.J. Mittelstaedt hit his first Double-A home run off of Evans to put the Stars back in front 4-3. It was also Mittelstaedt’s first Double-A RBI, and it gave Huntsville a lead they wouldn’t give up.
In the sixth inning the Stars sent eight men to the plate for the second time in the game. Hunter Morris led off the inning with a solo home run to increase the lead to 5-3. Morris has homered and tripled in two straight games, and his day was far from over. After an infield single by Hainley Statia, Kentrail Davis added his name to the long ball list by smashing a two-run home run deep to right field to pad the Stars advantage to 7-3. It was the third home run that Bryan Evans allowed in the game.
The Suns summoned Kyle Kaminska from the bullpen, and he was given a rude reception when pinch hitter Domnit Bolivar hit his first home run of the season to pad the lead at 8-3. The Stars hit three home runs in the sixth inning.
In the seventh, Kyle Jensen crushed a two-run home run to the deepest part of Joe Davis Stadium to get the Suns to within two runs at 8-5. Jensen leads the Suns with 11 home runs this season, and he’s tied for the team lead with 41 RBI’s with Shawn Bowman.
Huntsville belted two more home runs in the seventh inning off of Kaminska. The first two batters of the inning, T.J Mittelstaedt and Hunter Morris, hit back-to-back solo home runs and the Stars led 10-5. It’s the first time this season that a team has hit back-to-back home runs against the Suns. Jacksonville has allowed double-digit runs against four times this season.
The Stars hit six home runs in the game, one shy of tying the Southern League record for the most home runs in a single game. Seven is the record, set by six different teams over a 31 year span from 1961 through 1997. Knoxville hit seven against Jacksonville July 28, 1997, and Huntsville hit seven against Chattanooga July 18, 1997. Six round trippers are the most that the Suns have allowed in a game this season, and the most that the Stars have hit in a single game this year. Three of the home runs in Sunday’s game were hit by the leadoff man in an inning.
Curt Smith went 3-for-5 with three singles, and he’s now 8-for-14 this season against Huntsville. Smith had a hand in four of the Suns five runs, with two RBI’s and two runs scored. Shawn Bowman had a multi-hit game, going 2-for-3. Hunter Morris, Hainley Statia, and Kentrail Davis each collected three hits for the Stars. Morris had a hand in seven of the 10 runs, with 4 RBI and three runs scored. In the series, Morris has had a hand in 12 of the Stars 17 runs (7 RBI and 5 runs scored). Lee Haydel and T.J. Mittelstaedt finished with two hits each. Eight of the Stars 15 hits in the game went for extra-bases. Seven different Stars players scored at least one run.
Bryan Evans (2-6) pitched five and a-third innings allowing seven runs on nine hits, both season highs. Evans has allowed seven home runs in his last four starts, after giving up just two in his first 13 starts of the season. Kyle Kaminska pitched an inning and two-thirds giving up three runs on six hits. Kaminska was tagged for three home runs in the game. He had allowed two home runs total in his previous 24 outings. Stars starting pitcher Johnnie Lowe allowed three runs on six hits over his four innings of work and didn’t figure in the decision. Dan Merklinger (2-7) pitched two innings of hitless baseball to earn the win.
The series finale is Monday night from Joe Davis Stadium with the first pitch scheduled for 6:43 p.m. local time. RHP Zach Neal (4-6, 4.26) will start his tenth game of the season for the Suns. Neal earned the win last week at Tennessee after getting the start when Rob Rasmussen was traded to the Houston Astros just prior to the game July 4 at Smokies Park. RHP Hiram Burgos (4-1, 2.05) will take the mound for the eleventh time this season for the Huntsville Stars. The Suns have not been swept in a series this season.