LAWRENCEVILLE, GA - Despite a dominant pitching performance from Lucas Sims and a home run from Ronald Acuna , the Gwinnett Braves (47-46) fell 8-4 to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (58-37) on Monday night at Coolray Field. The loss marked the second straight game the G-Braves' bullpen surrendered the lead in the ninth inning.
Holding a 4-3 lead in the ninth, Gwinnett reliever Chaz Roe allowed the first three hitters he faced to reach on two singles and a walk. Pedro Florimon then singled off Rhiner Cruz to score a pair and put the IronPigs ahead 5-4. The visitors added there more runs in the inning off Cruz to take an 8-4 lead, which proved to be the final.
The game started better than it ended for Gwinnett. Making the start as part of his rehab assignment for the Atlanta Braves, Arodys Vizcaino pitched a scoreless first inning with a pair of fly outs and a strikeout to work around an error that started the game.
Sims, the scheduled starter, took over for the G-Braves in the second and was strong to begin his night. He struck out two hitters in each of his first three innings as the game remained scoreless going into the fifth inning.
Lehigh Valley pitcher Tom Eshelman helped his own cause at the plate in the fifth inning as he looped a single to shallow center with one out to score the game's first run. Two hitters later, J.P. Crawford's fly ball cleared the right-field fence for a two-run home run to put the IronPigs up 3-0.
Gwinnett was quick to respond in the bottom of the fifth against Eshelman. Matt Tuiasosopo led off the inning with a walk and Sean Kazmar Jr. doubled to put runners on second and third. Two hitters later, Micah Johnson hit a ground ball down the first base line and beat the play for an infield single to score a run. On the play, the throw to first went wide for an error that allowed Kazmar Jr. to score and Johnson to advance to third. But Eshelman retired the next two batters to hold a 3-2 IronPigs lead.
The lead wouldn't last much longer. In the bottom of the sixth, Ozzie Albies led off with a one-out single to center. Acuña followed with a two-run home run, his second with Gwinnett, an estimated 370 feet to left field to put Gwinnett up 4-3. The line-drive blast left Acuña's bat at 114 miles per hour.
After striking out a pair in a scoreless sixth, Sims did the same in the seventh to end his start. With his strikeout of Herlis Rodriguez in the seventh, Sims matched his single-game career high with 11 strikeouts for the third time in his career. The 11 strikeouts were also the most by a G-Braves' reliever in a single game, eclipsing the previous record of seven.
In the eighth, Roe made his G-Braves debut in relief and induced an inning-ending double play from Jorge Alfaro as Gwinnett held the 4-3 lead. However, the bullpen wouldn't hold on in the ninth, as the IronPigs batted around to rally and win the game.
Lehigh Valley reliever Michael Mariot (W, 5-2) pitched 1.1 scoreless innings to earn the win while closer Pedro Beato pitched a scoreless ninth to finish the game. Eshelman allowed four runs, three earned over 6.0 innings in a no-decision.
For Gwinnett, Tuiasosopo was 2-for-3 with a run scored and a walk while Acuña was 1-for-4 with the two-run homer. Dustin Peterson went 0-for-4 to end his 11-game hitting streak.
The IronPigs were led by Florimon, who went 1-for-2 with the game winning hit, two RBIs, two walks and two runs.
In game two of the series on Tuesday night, right-hander Matt Wisler (5-5, 3.72 ERA) will start for Gwinnett against Lehigh Valley right-hander Ben Lively (7-1, 2.17 ERA). First pitch at Coolray Field is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Tony Schiavone has the play-by-play call on 97.7 FM The Other Side of the River beginning at 6:35 p.m.
For Tuesday's game, dugout tickets are two for the price of one as part of Two-For-Tuesday. For tickets, call 678-277-0340 or visit GwinnettBraves.com/tickets.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.