Jacksonville right fielder Joe Benson smacked two extra-base hits, including a homer, and drove in six runs, while third baseman Terrence Dayleg recorded four RBI and second baseman Austin Barnes homered twice, as the Suns plated a total of 15 runs over their first three innings at bat in a 18-1 victory over the Tennessee Smokies on Friday night at Smokies Stadium.
The victory improved the Suns' record to 36-25 in the second half of the 2014 campaign, while the Smokies fell to 32-29 since the midpoint of the year. Tennessee's loss combined with the Chattanooga Lookouts' victory over the Jackson Generals means the Smokies' first place lead dropped to two games in the North Division standings with nine contests remaining.
Tennessee also welcome a crowd of 6,030 to Smokies Stadium, meaning the club is now just 587 fans away from setting a new single-season franchise record for attendance. The current top mark is 268,033, which was set in 2002, the team's third season at Smokies Stadium.
Jacksonville began their scoring onslaught early, plating seven runs in the opening frame with each of the first eight hitters reaching base. C J.T. Realmuto and 1B Viosergy Rosa began the spurt with back-to-back RBI singles, before Benson cleared the bases with a three-run double to deep center field to make it a 5-0 contest. After Benson came across on 3B Terrence Dayleg's RBI double down the left field line, starting pitcher Jose Urena would help his own cause with a safety squeeze sacrifice bunt to cap the seven-run first.
Benson would drive in two more tallies in the very next frame thanks to the big fly. LF Brady Shoemaker reached base via a two-out free pass to extend the frame for the right-handed slugger, who smashed a two-run blast to left to push the Suns ahead 9-0.
Another big inning would follow in the third, moving Jacksonville ahead to a 15-run margin. Barnes and Realmuto started the rally with consecutive run-scoring base knocks, including a double from Barnes, prior to Benson drawing a bases-loaded walk, while Dayleg followed by clearing the bases with a three-run double off the center field wall to cap the six-run third.
The Suns would add an additional tally in the subsequent inning with their second longball of the contest. With two outs, Barnes blasted his ninth big fly of the season with a solo shot into the Calhoun's At The Yard deck in left field to increase the advantage to 16-0.
Tennessee, however, would end the shutout hopes in the fifth. 3B Christian Villanueva led off with a ground-rule double down the left field line, and then advanced to third via C Taylor Davis' base knock to center, before coming being brought plateward on 2B Stephen Bruno's sacrifice fly to right.
Jacksonville would then tack on one final score in the seventh. Realmuto reached on an infield single, his third hit of the evening, and then was sent home on Rosa's RBI double to make it 17-1. The Suns would then add their 18th and final run of the evening via Barnes' second homer of the game, another solo shot to left, in the ninth.
Benson (2-4, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB) was one of five Suns hitters to record a multi hit game, along with Barnes (3-5, 4 R, 1 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI,1 BB), Realmuto (3-5, 3 R 2 RBI), Rosa (2-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB) and Dayleg (2-4, 1 R, 2 2B, 4 RBI), and led with a game-high six runs driven in, while no Smokies batters tallied a multi-hit effort.
The 18 runs scored by Jacksonville tied for the most allowed by Tennessee this season, topping the 17 allowed to Mobile on May 21. In addition, that seven-run first inning marked the first time the Smokies surrendered seven runs in the opening frame since July 3, 2005, when the Chattanooga Lookouts scored seven at AT&T Field in Chattanooga.
Suns starter Jose Urena (7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO) earned his 12th victory with a solid outing, yielding the lone earned run on four hits in seven innings, while Smokies starter Felix Pena (2.2 IP, 8 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 5 BB, 1 SO) suffered the loss. Jacksonville reliever Blake Logan (2.0 IP, 3 H, 1 SO) supported Urena with two scoreless innings of work to finish the job for Jacksonville.
Tennessee and Jacksonville are set to face off in the second game of their series Saturday evening, with first pitch scheduled for 6:15 p.m. The Smokies are anticipated to send RHP Corey Black (6-7, 3.06) to the hill, while the Suns are slated to counter with RHP Jay Rogers (6-5, 4.20).
Fans will want to arrive early and stay late, as the first 1,500 fans through the gates will receive a Smokies Dog Calendar, presented by Frontline Heartgard and PetSafe, with dogs also invited to join their owners on the berm during the contest. In addition, country recording artist Matt Gary will be performing a post-game concert.
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.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.