Only the Smokies played today in Game One of the Southern League Championship Series.
The Tennessee Smokies speared the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Marlins), 4-1.
The Smokies broke out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning and never looked back. Yonathan Perlaza led off the game with a single and then Jake Slaughter followed with another single. After two outs, Cole Roederer walked and then Chase Strumpf drew another walk to drive in a run.
The Smokies were gifted with two more runs when Blue Wahoos catcher Will Banfield tried to pick Slaughter off third base and third baseman Bubba Hollins missed the catch and the ball sailed into left field. That made the score 3-0 Smokies after just a half an inning.
The Smokies made it 4-0 in the top of the third when first baseman Nelson Maldonado connected for a solo home run.
Meanwhile, Smokies starter DJ Herz kept the Pensacola lineup in check over the first three innings. But in the fourth inning, the wildness that has plagued Herz since his promotion to Double-A came back to bite him. He walked two batters after one out and then a fielding error by Strumpf allowed a run to score.
Herz was pulled for Riley Martin after the error, and Martin walked the first batter he faced to load the bases with only one out. But Martin followed that with some clutch pitching, getting a strikeout and a grounder back to the mound to end the threat and keep the score 4-1.
And that’s how the game would end. The Smokies bullpen, which struggled so badly down the stretch in regular season, has come up big in the playoffs and did so again today. Blake Whitney came in and pitched two perfect innings and struck out two. Bailey Horn entered in the bottom of the eighth and got the save. He hit a batter with one out in the eighth and then put two on with a single, but a pop out to first and a strikeout ended game one.
From Martin’s walk in the fourth inning to Horn hitting a batter in the ninth, the Smokies bullpen retired 15-straight batters.
Herz’s final line was 3.1 innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits. He walked four and struck out five.
Martin was credited with the win because Herz didn’t go five innings. He allowed no runs on no hits and a walk over 1.2 innings. Martin struck out one.
Horn picked up the two-inning save. He allowed one hit and hit one batter while striking out four.
Maldonado went 2 for 4 with the solo home run.
Perlaza was 3 for 4 and scored one run.
Roederer went 0 for 1 with three walks and one run scored.
Here’s Maldonado’s home run.
From earlier…— Todd ⚾️ (@CubsCentral08) September 25, 2022
Nelson Maldonado pic.twitter.com/zBhH1UA0cU
The Smokies now have a one game to none lead in the best-of-three Southern League Championship Series. Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) will be played at Smokies Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Smokies are looking for their first Southern League title since 2004 (when they split the title with Mobile after Hurricane Ivan canceled the title series) and their first outright title since 1978. It would be the first Double-A title for a Cubs affiliate since the 2000 West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.