The Smokies are going to the Southern League Championship Series after outshining the Huntsville Stars, 3-1 this afternoon.
The game started out as a pitcher's duel as starter Hung-Wen Chen got into trouble in the first two innings, but pitched out of it each time. In particular, after a walk and an error in the second inning, Chen threw a wild pitch to put men on second and third with only one out. But a strikeout and a line out got Chen out of the inning with no runs scoring. Chen went five innings and allowed no runs on only one hit. He walked three and struck out four.
The Smokies took the lead in the bottom of the first inning when infield singles by Starlin Castro and James Adduci put two on with nobody out. After a failed sacrifice bunt erased Castro from the basepaths, first baseman Blake Lalli singled home Adduci.
That's the way it stayed until the seventh inning. Reliever Jayson Ruhlman allowed a solo home run to tie up the game in the top of the inning. Ruhlman gave up one run on two hits over 1.1 innings before giving way to Marcos Mateo.
The Smokies answered in the bottom of the seventh. They scored two runs, the first on a single by Castro and the second when pinch-hitter Russ Canzler reached on an error.
Mateo picked up the win after striking out both batters he faced in the seventh inning after relieving Ruhlman. Brian Schlitter entered the game in the ninth inning and got his third save in as many games to clinch the series. Schlitter allowed a lead-off single, but a pop out and a double play put the Smokies into the Southern League Championship Series.
Shortstop Castro was 3 for 4 today, and was the only Smokie with more than one hit.
The Smokies will play either Jacksonville or Birmingham for the Southern League Championship. Jacksonville currently leads the series 2-0. Yesterday's game 3 was suspended in the bottom of the first with Birmingham leading 1-0. They will finish that game tonight, weather permitting.