Biloxi, Miss. - The Jackson Generals, the Double-A affiliate of Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, stole all the helium from the Biloxi Shuckers' balloon on Wednesday, snatching a 6-2 victory at MGM Park with a ninth-inning rally that evened the Southern League Championship Series at one game apiece.
For the second straight year, a miraculous moment in the series' second game ensured the defending champion Generals (1-1) would split the first two games against the Shuckers (1-1), returning home Friday, September 13 to play a pivotal Game 3 under the lights at The Ballpark at Jackson at 6:05 p.m. CT.
As expected, both starting pitchers came out firing on all cylinders. Biloxi's Dylan File and Jackson's Josh Green dueled to a scoreless draw over the first three innings before the Generals claimed an unearned run in the fourth inning to take the lead. Drew Ellis reached base due to a fielding error by Biloxi shortstop Bruce Caldwell, and Seth Beer wore a pitch from File to put two men aboard with one out. Ramon Hernandez followed by serving a single into shallow right field, bringing home Ellis from second base to put Jackson ahead. The Generals did not score again on File, who dominated six innings of work with four hits allowed and struck out nine without walking a batter. File gave way to Justin Topa for a scoreless seventh inning, but left-hander Daniel Brown had a rough go in the eighth, as Daulton Varsho walked and stole second base before an RBI single to center field by Beer plated the game's second run for a 2-0 Generals lead.
In his last appearance of the year, Green delivered the best effort of his young career, challenging a Biloxi lineup that had scored nine runs the previous night. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed just two hits and one walk to the Shuckers, matching a career high with seven shutout innings on a mere 77 pitches that featured nine groundball outs and three punchouts. Junior Garcia entered to work the eighth inning for Jackson, but he started leaking oil quickly. After getting the lead-off hitter to ground out, he allowed a single to Joantgel Segovia and a five-pitch walk to Max McDowell that put the tying run on base with the Generals leading, 2-0. To clean up the spill, the Generals called on Kevin McCanna (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who had thrown 24 pitches the night before in the Game 1 defeat. McCanna walked pinch-hitter Mario Feliciano to load the bases, but he induced a thrilling bases-loaded strikeout of Biloxi centerfielder Luis Aviles Jr. to get a critical second out. However, Shuckers outfielder Cooper Hummel had different plans, lacing a two-run single to right field that tied the game at 2-2 and breathed life into the home finale crowd at MGM Park. With the go-ahead run at third base, McCanna then struck out Ryan Aguilar to bring the game to a dramatic ninth inning in a 2-2 tie.
In the top of the ninth, Biloxi's Anthony Bender (0-1, 36.00 ERA) posted a strikeout and a groundout against the first two men he faced, drawing defensive replacement Camden Duzenack to the plate. The Generals' second baseman earned a five-pitch walk, turning the lineup over for right-fielder Ben DeLuzio's fifth plate appearance of the night. DeLuzio was hitless in his four prior at-bats, all strikeouts, but with one swing, he wiped out a whole night of failure at the plate. DeLuzio roped a 1-1 offering from Bender down the left field line for a base hit, sending Shuckers outfielder Cooper Hummel into the left field corner as Duzenack careened at full-tilt around the bases. Jackson manager and third base coach Blake Lalli waited until the last possible moment before windmilling his arm in a frantic circle, sending Duzenack home to test Biloxi's outfield relay with the game on the line. Caldwell, the Biloxi shortstop, was caught off guard by Duzenack's continuation toward the plate and allowed Hummel's throw to skip off the webbing of his glove, allowing Duzenack to score the go-ahead run as DeLuzio hustled to third base and bedlam erupted in the Generals' dugout.
Jackson's ninth-inning surge continued on the very next pitch. All-Star catcher (and Tuesday's centerfielder) Varsho came to the plate in an 0-for-22 slump to begin the postseason, and he broke it with a slicing line drive down the left field line that went for a double, scoring DeLuzio for a 4-2 advantage. Pavin Smith added another layer by doubling to the gap in left-center to bring home Varsho for a 5-2 advantage, and Ellis blooped a single into no-man's land beyond second base that would score Smith before Ellis was tagged out trying to reach second base. Every Generals position player in the starting lineup finished the night with at least one hit, with Smith and Beer collecting two-hit games and Varsho scoring twice. Jackson went 5-for-10 with men in scoring position while posting five hits for extra bases, including three in the ninth inning.
To finish the 6-2 game, Jackson tapped closer West Tunnell, who stranded a two-out walk in a scoreless inning to equalize the series with Biloxi after their second astounding Game 2 rally in two consecutive seasons. Jackson will host Games 3 and 4 at The Ballpark at Jackson on Friday, September 13, and Saturday, September 14, with Game 5 to be played at 6:05 p.m. on Sunday, September 15 if neither team clinches the series in four games.
For the second year in a row, the Generals are playing for a Southern League title! The Generals have earned their way back into the Southern League Championship Series, and this year, they have the right to host Games 3, 4, and 5 of the SLCS at The Ballpark at Jackson! Games 3 and 4 are set for Friday, September 13, and Saturday, September 14 at 6:05 p.m. CT, with Game 5 to follow on Sunday, September 15 if necessary. Buy your tickets through the box office at The Ballpark at Jackson in person, by calling 731.988.5299, or online through JacksonGeneralsBaseball.com!
The Jackson Generals, a West Tennessee franchise since 1998, are the Double-A minor league affiliate of Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. The Generals play at The Ballpark at Jackson, Tennessee's 2017 & 2018 Pro Sports Field of the Year. Next June, The Ballpark at Jackson will host the 2020 Southern League All-Star Game, and you can purchase 2020 season tickets today by calling 731.988.5299 or visiting JacksonGeneralsBaseball.com!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.