KODAK, Tenn. (release) -- Smokies starting pitcher Corey Black fired six strong innings and three relievers combined for the final four shutout frames, while shortstop Addison Russell homered and third baseman Christian Villanueva delivered the clutch walk-off RBI single to give Tennessee a 2-1 ten-inning walk-off win over the Pensacola Blue Wahoos on Friday evening at Smokies Stadium.
The victory evens the series at one game apiece and improved the Smokies’ record to 21-21 in the second half of the season. With the defeat, Pensacola dropped to 16-26 since the Southern League All-Star Break, though they still hold a 5-2 advantage over Tennessee this season.
Entering the extra frame even at 1-1, CF Albert Almora got the winning rally started with a leadoff infield single, and then moved to second on LF Lars Anderson’s base knock to left to set the scene for Villanueva’s heroics. Down to a 1-2 count, Villanueva smashed a line drive to the opposite field in right to send in Almora and cue the celebration for the Smokies’ ninth walk-off victory of 2014.
Tennessee’s bullpen trio of Lendy Castillo (1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 SO), Hunter Cervenka (2.0 IP, 1 H, 3 SO) and Frank Batista (1.0 IP, 1 H, 2 SO) was spectacular in support of Black, combining to allow only three hits and strike out seven in four innings of work. Batista earned his third save of the year to improve to 3-0 on the year after a scoreless top of the tenth.
Both Black (6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO) and Blue Wahoos right-hander Daniel Corcino (6.0 IP 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO) went six strong innings, though neither factored in the final decisions. Black’s quality start marked the fifth time in his last six outings the Cubs’ No. 15 prospect has allowed two runs or less while firing six or more innings.
The Smokies struck first in the opening frame courtesy of Russell’s longball. The 20-year-old smashed the 1-0 pitch over the left field deck of Calhoun’s At The Yard for his seventh homer since joining Tennessee for the early advantage. All seven of those roundtrippers have come in a 15-game span for the shortstop, who has driven in 14 of his 16 RBI with the Smokies in that time span.
Pensacola, however, countered back with a tally of their own in the third. After SS Brodie Greene reached on an infield single and stole second, C Ross Perez brought Greene in with a run-scoring two-bagger to right to even the score at 1-1.
The Blue Wahoos would not threaten from that point onward, as Black faced the minimum in his final three frames, yielding just one hit and a walk in that period. Coming into tonight tied for fourth in the Southern League in strikeouts, the right-hander’s seven punchouts moved Black into third place with 103 strikeouts in 104.1 innings pitched.
Black and the Smokies relief corps would ensure the tally remained the same through the next six frames before Villanueva’s game-winning hit in the tenth. It was the seventh walk-off triumph for Tennessee this year, including their fourth in the second half of the 2014 campaign.
Anderson (3-5, 1 2B) led all Smokies hitters with three hits in the contest, while Almora (2-5, 1 R) also recorded a two-hit effort in the victory. Perez (2-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI) continued his hot streak to start the series, collecting another multi-hit effort and driving his fifth run in two games, while Greene (2-4, 1 R, 1 BB) also tallied two base knocks.
The Smokies and Blue Wahoos are set to square off again on Saturday night for the third game of their series, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Pensacola is expected to give the ball to RHP Jon Moscot (5-10, 3.38), while Tennessee has not yet announced their starter.
Fans will want to arrive early, as the first 2,000 fans will receive a free Smokies baseball cap courtesy of WBIR and Q100. In addition, the “Clown Prince of Baseball”, Myron Noodleman will be on hand to entertain with his zany and crowd-pleasing antics.
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.