Smokies outfielder Albert Almora smashed the game-winning pinch hit run-scoring double into the left-center field gap in the ninth after Huntsville's four-run sixth inning evened the contest in the sixth to give Tennessee a 6-5 walk-off victory over the Stars on Wednesday evening at Smokies Stadium.
The win means the Smokies remain tied at the top of the second half North Division standings with Chattanooga after the Lookouts' 11th straight win, and improve Tennessee's record to an even 26-26 mark since the All-Star break. The defeat dropped Huntsville to a game behind the Smokies at 25-27.
Entering the final frame even at 5-5, Tennessee was able to thwart Huntsville's hopes in completing a comeback win. 2B Stephen Bruno reached on a fielding error, and stood at first base with two outs as Almora stepped to the plate and crushed a drive into the left-center field gap past the Stars outfielders and all the way to the wall to allow Bruno to score and cue the celebration.
The walk-off win was the eighth of the season for the Smokies, and their second in the month of August. Tennessee previously won in their last at bat on August 1 against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos on 3B Christian Villanueva's RBI single to right, which plated Almora from second in the tenth inning.
Tennessee wasted little time getting on the board, plating a trio of tallies in the first. 2B Stephen Bruno was hit by a pitch and then took second, before coming across for the Smokies' first score when LF Lars Anderson laced an RBI single to right-center. Russell and Anderson would both then be brought in via C Charlie Cutler's two-run double down the right field line to make it 3-0.
The Smokies subsequently scored in the very next frame to extend the advantage. RF Pin-Chieh Chen drew a free pass before eventually moving to second on a sacrifice bunt and scoring on CF Jae-Hoon Ha's two-out run-scoring base knock to center field to push Tennessee to a 4-0 lead.
Huntsville starting pitcher Jacob Barnes would then help his own cause in the fourth for the Stars' first run. SS Yadiel Rivera reached via a two-out single to right to bring up Barnes, who smashed his second hit of the game, an RBI double into the left field corner, to cut their deficit to three.
Tennessee immediately answered right back in the bottom of the frame with a single tally. Chen dropped a double into left field just in front of the diving reach of LF Hector Gimenez before coming across when Ha doubled to left after Gimenez lost the ball in the sky to put the Smokies back up by four.
A four-run sixth inning for the Stars, however, would nod the contest even at 5-5 in the sixth. Each of the first three Huntsville hitters reached to load the bases courtesy of C Robinzon Diaz's free pass, as well as base knocks from 3B Hainley Statia and RF Kentrail Davis to set the scene for Rivera, who bounced a bases-clearing triple into the left field corner to plate all three runners. Rivera then scored on pinch hitter Josh Fellhauer's RBI groundout to even the game to a draw.
The Smokies had their best chance in the bottom of the seventh, placing the go-ahead run at third with no outs. Ha represented that run on base after reaching on a single to center and then moving to on 2B Stephen Bruno's double to right. After Anderson was intentionally walked, Stars reliever Greg Holle was able to induce an inning-ending double play to stomp out Tennessee's rally.
Neither Smokies starting pitcher Corey Black (5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 6 BB, 6 SO), nor Stars starter Jacob Barnes (5.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO) factored in the final decisions. Tennessee reliever Jeff Lorick (2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 SO) tossed two shutout innings, while P.J. Francescon (1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 SO) fired the final 1.1 frames to earn his team-leading tenth win of the season. Stars relief man Tim Dillard (0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER) suffered his second loss of the year after yielding the unearned score in the ninth.
Ha (3-5, 1 2B, 2 RBI) led the Smokies batting order with his three base knocks, and Anderson (2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB) also collected two hits in the contest, while no Stars hitters recorded a multi-hit effort. Russell's single in his first at bat continued the infielder's hot stretch at the plate and has now recorded a hit in 17 of his last 19 games, including each of his last seven.
Tennessee and Huntsville are set to square off again Thursday evening at Smokies Stadium, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. The Smokies are expected to give the nod to RHP C.J. Edwards (1-1, 3.21), while the Stars are anticipated to counter with LHP Jed Bradley (5-6, 4.28).
Fans will be able to take advantage of drink specials throughout most of the evening with Thirsty Thursday at the ballpark. Domestic draft beers, in addition to small Pepsi products will be available for only one dollar along with several other specials.
Tickets for that game and the remainder of the Smokies' 2014 home schedule are still available and can be purchased online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 286-2300.