Catcher Kyle Skipworth(left)and second baseman Paul Gran each collected three hits in the Suns 8-7 walk-off win over the Mississippi Braves July 19, 2012 at the Baseball Grounds. Photo Courtesy: Jacksonville Suns
By Steve Kolbe
New faces help the Jacksonville Suns come back to win a walk-off thriller 8-7 over the Mississippi Braves on Thursday night at the Baseball Grounds. The Suns won for just the second time this season when trailing going into the ninth inning (2-43). Jacksonville also came back to beat Montgomery 5-4 on May 15 when Jake Jefferies hit a three-run home run in the top of the ninth at Riverwalk Stadium.
The Braves used the long ball to take the lead against Suns starter James Leverton, who hadn’t surrendered a home run in his previous 10 appearances. Tim Smith and Christian Marrero each hit solo home runs in the second inning to put the Braves up 2-0. For Smith it was just his second of the season, for Morrero it was his first home run of the year but he made it count. Morrero’s blast cleared the right field stands and headed toward the street. In the third inning, Christian Bethancourth hit his first home run of the year to extend the lead to 3-0.
The Suns broke through in the home half of the third against Mississippi starting pitcher David Hale. With one out, Chris Gutierrez doubled to the wall in left field to extend his hitting streak to 14 games. Paul Gran then drove in his 21st run of the season with a single to center, with Gutierrez motoring around from second to cut the Braves lead to 3-1. With two outs, Kyle Skipworth smashed a two-run home run to tie the game 3-3. Skipworth has hit four round trippers in the last three games, and his 11 home runs this season match his total last year’s campaign.
In the fifth inning, Phil Gosselin led off with his second triple of the season and scored on Jason Christian’s RBI-single to center to give the Braves a 4-3 edge. In the seesaw affair, the Suns stormed back in the bottom of the fifth. Chris Gutierrez walked to lead off the inning, but Hale retired both Paul Gran and Kyle Jensen on fly balls. With two outs, Kyle Skipworth doubled to drive in Gutierrez to tie the game 4-4. Ben Lasater then followed with a double for his first RBI of the season, with Skipworth rumbling home to vault the Suns back into the lead 5-4.
The Braves jumped ahead in the sixth against Suns reliever Mike Ojala. Joe Terdoslavich led off with a double into the left field corner, and scored when Joe Leonard singled to knot the game 5-5. After a single by Marrero put runners on the corners, Phil Gosselin hit a sacrifice fly to center with Leonard tagging from third for a 6-5 Mississippi advantage.
The Suns used three singles in the seventh inning to tie the score 6-6. Paul Gran led off the inning with a base knock, and scored on Shawn Bowman’s two-out RBI-single. In a game where no lead was safe, the Braves went back in front in the eighth inning against Kyle Kaminska. After Joe Leonard doubled and Christian Marrero singled, pinch hitter Alden Carrithers swung at the first pitch he saw and sent a fly ball into center field, with Marrero scoring on the sacrifice to give the Braves a 7-6 lead going into the ninth.
Mississippi turned to their closer Mark Lamm, who entered the night with 10 saves. Paul Gran led off the ninth inning with a single to left field to start the rally. After Kyle Jensen went down on strikes, Kyle Skipwroth and Ben Lasater each walked to load the bases with one out. Lamm then retired Shawn Bowman with one pitch on a foul pop to the catcher. With two outs, center fielder Danny Pertusati took center stage and stole the spotlight in his first Double-A game. Pertusati singled to right field past the diving second baseman, with both Gran and pinch runner Donnie Webb scoring to give the Suns the walk-off win 8-7. Pertusati was mobbed in the infield by his new teammates to celebrate the win. The Suns scored seven of their eight runs in the game after there were two outs in an inning.
Kyle Skipworth and Paul Gran each had three hits. Skipworth finished 3-for-4 with three RBI’s and two runs scored. He has hit four home runs and driven in seven over the last three games. Gran collected three singles, drove in a run, and scored three of the Suns eight runs. Chris Gutierrez extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a double in the third inning. It’s his second streak this season of at least 14 games. The last time that Gutierrez was held without a hit was July 1st against Pensacola.
Suns starter James Leverton allowed four runs on five hits in five innings of work, including three home runs. He struck out a season-high seven batters. After being acquired by the Marlins on July 9, Jon Link pitched the ninth to earn the win in his first game with Jacksonville. Suns pitchers did not issue a walk for the eleventh time this season. Braves closer Mark Lamm took the loss to drop to 0-4 this season.
The Suns have won three straight games for the first time since April 28 to May 2 when they won four in a row. Overall, Jacksonville has won five of the last six games.. This season 35 of the Suns 97 games have been decided by a single run (17-18). The Braves have dropped six of their last seven games, and have been outscored 49-29 in those games. Mississippi lost for just the second time this season when taking a lead into the ninth (29-2).
Game two of the series is Friday with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. RHP Bryan Evans (3-6, 3.97) will take the mound for the Suns. Evans allowed just one run in five and a-third innings and earned the victory as the Suns topped the Blue Wahoos 6-1 in Pensacola last week. LHP Brent Leach (0-2, 1.59) is set to start his second game of the season for the Braves.