By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns were held to just one single and had just three base runners, but blanked the Montgomery Biscuits 1-0 on Monday night at Riverwalk Stadium to take sole possession of first place in the South Division with six games remaining in the regular season.
After dropping nine of the first 12 games against the Biscuits, the Suns have now won 10 straight games over Montgomery, outscoring the Biscuits 52-21. It’s the Suns longest winning streak against any opponent this season.
In a pitchers duel, the Suns plated the lone run of the night in the top of the fourth against Biscuits starter Matt Buschmann. Jake Smolinski drew a leadoff walk, and Zack Cox walked with one out to put runners on first and second. Smolinski has walked 73 times this season, tied for second-most in the league. With two outs, Kyle Skipworth hit ground ball on an 0-2 pitch, past the outstretched glove of second baseman Derek Dietrich, and into right field for the RBI-single to give the Suns a 1-0 lead. Skipworth has just five hits with runners in scoring position and two outs this season (5-for-47 with six RBI). He has driven in five runs in the series.
Fun Fact: Kyle Skipworth has had the Suns only single in two one-hitters this season. One win and one loss. Jacksonville was shutout 1-0 on a one-hitter April 12th by the Chattanooga Lookouts at the Baseball Grounds, with Skipworth collecting a single in the second inning for the only hit of the game against Aaron Miller, Red Patterson, and Shawn Tolleson.
The Suns have won five straight, and eight of the last nine games after a season-high seven game losing streak. The Biscuits have dropped five in a row, and have just three wins in their last 11 outings.
The Suns had their steak of scoring at least five runs in a game snapped at eight. The Biscuits collected seven hits in the game, with six singles and a triple. The Biscuits had at least one runner on base in every inning except the second, but had more than one base runner in an inning only once. Omar Luna finished 3-for-4 and has the third-best batting average in the league this season.
The Suns have 14 shutouts during the 2012 campaign, doubling their total of seven from last season. The Suns have held the Biscuits off the scoreboard four times during their 10-game winning streak against Montgomery:
*Graham Taylor and A.J. Ramos combined on a 1-0 win over the Biscuits August 3rd.
*Four Suns pitchers combined on a two-hitter against Montgomery August 4th.
*Jose Alvarez tossed a complete-game two-hitter in a 4-0 win over the Biscuits August 7th.
Bryan Evans (6-8) put together one of his strongest outings of the season. He threw 92 pitches, 60 for strikes, and allowed four singles and a triple in his seven innings for the victory. Evans has won four of his last six decisions, with two of the wins coming at the expense of the Biscuits.
Matt Buschmann (6-8) surrendered a lone RBI-single to Kyle Skipworth in the loss. Buschmann enticed the Suns into 16 ground outs, and allowed just three base runners in the game, all in the fouth inning. Kirby Yates pitched the ninth for the Biscuits to combine with Buschmann on the one-hitter.
The Suns bullpen slammed the door on the Biscuits. James Leverton allowed a single in the eighth, and A.J. Ramos pitched the ninth to earn his second save of the series and 21st of the season. Ramos has the second-most saves in the Southern League.
The win didn’t come without some late-inning drama. Omar Luna led off the home half of the ninth with a single, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, and took third on a wild pitch by Ramos to increase the tension. Ramos then retired Kyeong Kang on a fly ball to right field to end the game. Suns relievers have allowed just nine singles in 18.2 scoreless innings over the last five games.
Jacksonville has won the first four games of the series by a combined score of 23-11. The Suns will look to complete the sweep in the series finale Tuesday night from Riverwalk Stadium, with the first pitch scheduled for 8:05 PM. RHP Brian Flynn (2-0, 3.41) will step on the mound for the Suns. RHP Jake Thomspson (7-10, 5.30) gets the call for the Biscuits.