By Steve Kolbe
The Jackson Generals defeated the Jacksonville Suns 7-3 Thursday night in the first game of a five-game series at Pringles Park. The loss, combined with the Montgomery Biscuits 10-3 win over Huntsville, dropped the Suns one game back in the South Division with four games remaining in the regular season.
The Suns dented the scoreboard in the first inning against Generals starter James Paxton. Jake Smolinski led off with a single and Chris Gutierrez followed with a double to start the inning. Paxton then settled down to strike out both Zack Cox and Ben Lasater. With two outs, Kyle Jensen delivered with a double off the right field wall with both Smolinski and Gutierrez racing around to score and the Suns had a 2-0 lead. Jensen is among the league leaders with 77 RBI.
The Generals didn’t waste any time getting even, and were able to solve Suns starting pitcher Jose Alvarez in the home half of the first inning. After Alvarez walked Francisco Martinez to start the inning, Brad Miller and Stefen Romero both singled to load the bases with no outs. This season’s Johnny Bench Award winning catcher Mike Zunino stepped up, and the former Florida Gator lifted a sacrifice fly to deep center field with Martinez coasting home to cut the lead to 2-1. Alvarez continued to struggle with his control, and a wild pitch allowed Miller to score from third to tie the game 2-2.
Jackson sent eight men to the plate in the second inning, scoring three more runs to take control of the contest early. Denny Almonte led off with a single, Francisco Martinez walked, and Brad Miller singled to load the bases for a second straight inning. Stefen Romero gave the Generals the advantage with a sacrifice fly, with Almonte racing home to make the score 3-2. Zunino then fell behind in the count to Alvarez 0-2, but went the opposite way for a single to right field with both Martinez and Miller scoring on the play to increase the lead to 5-2.
Jackson added a run in the fifth on a RBI double by Joe Dunigan, and another in the sixth when Stefen Romero drove in his second run of the night with a single to pad the lead to 7-2. The top four hitters in the Generals lineup combined for five RBI and scored five times.
The Suns loaded the bases in the ninth inning with no outs, but scored just one run and fell to the Generals 7-3. After allowing 15 runs during their five-game winning streak, the Suns have now allowed 14 runs in the last two games. Jacksonville is 4-8 in the last 12 road games.
Kyle Jensen finished 2-for-4 and had a hand in all three Suns runs with two RBI and a run scored. Jensen now has 20 multi-hit games this season. Brad Miller went 3-for-4 and scored three times for the Generals. Mike Zunino drove in three of the Generals seven runs. He has eight RBI in a dozen games with Jackson since being promoted. The Generals improved to 42-24 at Pringles Park, the best home record in the Southern League.
Jose Alvarez (6-9) allowed five runs on five hits, walked three and had a wild pitch in 1.2 innings of work, his shortest outing of the season. Alvarez finished the season with a 2-6 record in his 12 road starts. James Paxton (9-4) surrendered two runs on four hits over six innings for the win. Paxton has won six of his last seven decisions, and has just one loss since May 25th. Logan Bawcom entered the game in the ninth to shut down the Suns rally for his 19th save of the season.