Tennessee right fielder Jorge Soler blasted two homers and drove in a career-high five runs as part of a three-hit game, while second baseman Stephen Bruno collected three hits and drove in three RBI as part of the Smokies' 14-8 slugfest victory over the Jacksonville Suns on Sunday afternoon at Smokies Stadium.
The win snaps a three-game skid to the Suns, and improves Tennessee's record to 13-11 in the second half of the season. The defeat drops Jacksonville's second half mark to 13-10, as well as a 49-44 clip overall this season.
It was the first time in Soler's minor league career that the 22-year-old has launched two homers in a game, while also tallying a single-game career-high five RBI. Overall the Smokies combined for 14 runs and 15 hits, while each of the first seven batters in the order scored at least one run.
Heading into the bottom of the fifth trailing the Suns 4-1, Tennessee's bats awoke with a slew of scores to roar ahead. Following SS Elliot Soto's run-scoring double and an RBI groundout, Soler delivered the highlight of the frame with a two-run blast to left, pushing the Smokies ahead 5-4. The club was not quite done yet, however, as following 3B Christian Villanueva's walk and C Luis Flores' double, LF Anthony Giansanti brought both home with a two-run single to right, with Giansanti then coming across on 1B Dustin Geiger's run-scoring two-bagger to center.
The Smokies also got the scoring started in the very first frame with a single tally. Soto and 2B Stephen Bruno led off the inning with back-to-back singles and got into scoring position after executing a double steal, before Soto came plateward on Villanueva's sacrifice fly to center.
Jacksonville would then strike with a big inning of their own, scoring four in the third. Starting pitcher Justin Nicolino began the rally and helped his own cause with a single to right, while LF Brent Keys reached on a force out before Nicolino came in on C J.T. Realmuto's RBI base knock to right. Realmuto and Keys would then come home on Benson's three-run blast to left-center, pushing the Suns up 4-1 before the Smokies' big rally two innings later.
After that seven-run fifth, Jacksonville would bring across a pair of tallies of their own. Benson began the frame with a free pass, while 3B Austin Barnes doubled to left prior to both being brought in on 1B Ryan Rieger's two-run double to left to make it a two-run game at 8-6.
After the Smokies got a run back courtesy of Christian Villanueva's RBI single in the sixth, the Suns would make it a one-run contest with a two-run seventh. Keys reached on an infield single and then advanced to second on a wild pitch before scoring on Realmuto's double to right. After swiping third, Realmuto would score on Barnes' sacrifice fly to center to narrow their deficit at 9-8.
However, Tennessee would pull away for good by plating five unanswered runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. CF Jae-Hoon Ha singled, while 1B Charlie Cutler and Soto each walked to load the bases for Bruno, who slapped a two-run single to right to increase their advantage to three. Soler would then cap the Smokies' scoring in a big way with his three-run shot to deep right-center, landing well over 400 feet from home plate.
Suns starter Justin Nicolino (4.2 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO) suffered the defeat after allowing seven runs, only one of which was earned, while Smokies reliever Zach Cates (2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 SO) earned the victory to improve to 2-1 with two scoreless innings. Southpaw relief man Hunter Cervenka (1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 SO) notched his seventh hold of the season as well, and closer Frank Batista (2.0 IP, 1 H, 2 SO) fired the last two shutout frames.
Soler (3-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI) and Bruno (3-5, 2 R, 3 RBI) each led Tennessee with three base knocks, while Soto (2-4, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB) and Giansanti (2-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB) also collected multi-hit efforts. Keys (2-5, 2 R, 1 2B), Realmuto (2-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI) and Barnes (2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI) paced Jacksonville's order with two hits apiece.
The series finale is scheduled for Monday evening at Smokies Stadium, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. in Kodak. Tennessee is expected to give the ball to LHP Jeffry Antigua (0-1, 2.45), with the Suns slated to counter with RHP Jose Urena (6-7, 4.14). It's McGhee Tyson Airport Low Fare Monday at the ballpark, with fans getting the bang for their buck with hot dogs, popcorn, small Pepsi products and programs all available for only one dollar.
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.