KODAK, Tenn — The Rocket City Trash Pandas let a seven-run lead slip away, ultimately falling in walk-off fashion 9-8 to the Tennessee Smokies in 11 innings on Saturday night at Smokies Stadium in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Following two scoreless innings from each starter, the Trash Pandas were the ones to break through in the top of the third off Smokies righty Kohl Franklin. D’Shawn Knowles reached with a two-out double. David Calabrese then connected on a two-run homer to right, his 15th of the season to tie for the team lead and give Rocket City a 2-0 edge.
In the fourth, Tucker Flint got the Trash Pandas started with a solo home run to right-center that deflected off the glove off Smokies center fielder Kevin Alcantara, making it 3-0. Arol Vera singled and stole second with two outs before coming in to score on a single from Gabe Matthews that deflected off Franklin’s leg before bouncing into right field. Anthony Mulrine kept the inning going with a single and Knowles capped the inning’s scoring with a two-run triple into the right field corner, putting Rocket City up 6-0. An inning later, the Rocket City lead grew to seven when Adrian Placencia started with a single and later came home on a sacrifice fly from Vera.
The lead wouldn’t last long. After cruising through four scoreless innings, the game unraveled for Trash Pandas starter Sammy Natera Jr. in the fifth. Two singles were followed by a triple from Christian Franklin to get the Smokies on the board, with a throwing error on the play allowing Franklin to come all the way home and make it 7-3.
Jake Lee entered in long relief and immediately allowed back-to-back singles to make it 7-4 before an out was recorded in the fifth. A sacrifice fly from Alcantara made it 7-5 for the second out of the inning. Pablo Aliendo made it a one-run game with an RBI double to left and James Triantos tied the game with a single to right, scoring Aliendo to make it 7-7.
In his second Double-A start, Natera finished with four earned runs against on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over four innings. Lee was able to keep the game tied from there, holding the Smokies off the board in the sixth, seventh, and eighth.
Blake Whitney was first out of the Tennessee bullpen in the fifth and allowed the one run over two innings. Riley Martin pitched two scoreless innings and Zach Leigh pitched a clean top of the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, Dylan Phillips entered for the Trash Pandas and quickly got two outs. The Smokies kept the inning going with a double from Murray. An intentional walk to Haydn McGeary and a walk to Alcantara loaded the bases with two outs. Phillips escaped by inducing a ground out from Aliendo to send the game to extra innings.
With Calabrese starting the inning at second as the automatic runner, a wild pitch from Leigh moved the go-ahead run to third. Flint put the Trash Pandas back ahead with an RBI ground out to second, scoring Calabrese for an 8-7 Rocket City edge. Tennessee got the run right back on a sacrifice fly from Andy Weber, sending the game to the 11th inning.
Porter Hodge (W, 6-7) was able to hold the Trash Pandas off the board in the top of the 11th. In the bottom half, Murray connected on Nathan Burns’ (L, 0-2) first pitch for a walk-off single, handing the Trash Pandas their third one-run loss of the series.
Offensively, Knowles paced the Rocket City offense by going 2-for-4 with a double, a triple, and two RBI. Eight of the nine Rocket City starters recorded at least one hit, with Werner Blakely the only one to go hitless, finishing 0-for-5 in his Double-A debut.