by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It’s the series finale of the Carolina Mudcats’ five-game set against the hottest team in Organized Baseball, and the Mudcats really need a win.
The Mudcats are in third place in the Southern League’s North Division, six games behind the Chicago Cubs-affiliated Smokies, and a seven-game deficit just two weeks into the season would leave Carolina with a very big hill to climb in a first-half pennant race.
And they need some momentum before heading off on a 10-game road trip as well.
There are so many clouds in the sky the sun can’t peek through, but no rain is in tonight’s forecast.
Lefty Alexander Smit, a mainstay of the Dutch national teams, is on the hill for Carolina while Craig Muschko will go for the visitors. Neither has been involved in a decision this season. This isn’t a good night for Smit, who gives up nine runs on nine hits in the first three innings en route to a 16-7 Tennessee victory.
For the second straight outing Smit has a very rough first inning, but this time he really pays on the scoreboard. Smit starts by hitting leadoff man Brandon Guyer, who scores on Starlin Castro’s triple to center. Castro scores on Ty Wright’s grounder to first. After Blake Lalli singles to center, Robinson Chirinos blasts the next pitch over the left-field wall. With two out, Tony Thomas doubles to center and then scores on Nate Samson’s single to center to make it 5-0.
Tennessee adds two more in the second on Wright’s two-run homer off the scoreboard in left, and two more in the third to make it 9-0.
Carolina finally breaks through in the third, when Jake Kahaulelio launches an 0-1 offering into the cutout just to the left of the scoreboard in left. That starts a five-run rally. Chris Denove doubles to left, and with one out Kris Negron reaches on a bunt single. Jose Castro hits an RBI single to right, followed by Eric Eymann’s homer off the scoreboard in left.
Wright’s big night for Tennessee continues in the fifth, as he tags the scoreboard with a two-out, three-run shot.
Tennessee adds four more in the sixth, and it’s the promise of post-game fireworks that keeps the fans in the house.
Wright leads the Smokies at the plate, going 3-for-5 with the two homers and seven RBI.
The Mudcats bang out 10 hits, led by Eymann and Kahaulelio with a homer and a single each.
They said it …
Mudcats manager David Bell: “Smit has struggled his last couple of outings early, and tonight we just ran into a hot team with some good players. It was just one of those nights — you hate to say that. He made some good pitches and they hit the ball hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if their guys just keep moving through their system. They’re doing everything really well right now.”
Tennessee manager Bill Dancy: “I think number one we’ve got enough veterans on the club that with the mixture of the younger guys, they’ve done what they’re supposed to do. They’ve swung the bats and drove in the runs, and our starting pitchers have done a good job. We’re never down. From the top of the lineup to the bottom, it’s pretty solid.”
Wright: “I would imagine seven RBI is a personal best. I got a fastball and a cut fastball (for the homers.) We’ve got a real aggressive hitting team. One of the things we want to do on the road is jump out on top. We get the pitch we’re looking for we put a good swing on it and hit the ball hard. ”
What does it all mean?
That the Smokies remain the hottest team in the minors, and that the Mudcats are in need of some momentum but quick.
Stars of the game
2. Starlin Castro, with a triple, double and single for three RBI.
Play of the game
Wright’s second homer, in the fifth inning.
Tennessee leads 5-0.
Carolina: Lost 5.
Tennessee: Won 7.
Mudcats at Jacksonville, Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Matt Klinker (R, 1-1, 2.04) vs. Elih Villanueva (R, 0-1, 4.70)
Birmingham at Tennessee, Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
Matt Long (R, 0-2, 6.91) vs. Andrew Cashner (R, 1-0, 2.60)