MADISON, Ala. — The Rocket City Trash Pandas struggled offensively and were unable to hold a one-run lead in the middle innings, falling 4-2 to the Tennessee Smokies in Game 2 of the North Division Series on Thursday night in the first playoff game in Toyota Field history.
With the win, the Smokies evened the series at one game apiece, setting up a decisive Game 3 on Friday night. The winner of Friday night’s game will advance to the Southern League Championship Series.
Trash Pandas starter Chase Silseth began the night in dominant fashion, retiring the Smokies one, two, three in the first. He got into trouble in the second as a walk and a single put runners on first and second with one out.
In the third, Tennessee broke the scoreless deadlock. Zach Davis led off with a walk and promptly stole second and third. Yonathan Perlaza followed with a double down the right field line, giving the Smokies the 1-0 lead. Silseth limited the damage to the one run by getting Bryce Ball to fly out to center and Nelson Maldonado to ground out, keeping the deficit at one.
Rocket City tied the game with one thunderous swing in the bottom half. With two outs and nobody on, Zach Neto crushed Ben Brown’s first offering 367 feet over the left field fence for the first playoff home run in Toyota Field history, a solo shot to even the score 1-1 and send Toyota Field into a frenzy.
An inning later, Rocket City took the lead for the first time, with Ryan Aguilar’s single to left plating Aaron Whitefield on a close play at the plate for a 2-1 Trash Pandas edge. Rocket City nearly added on with the bases loaded and two outs. With reliever Bailey Horn in the game, Bryce Teodosio struck out to end the inning, stranding the runners.
Silseth held the lead in the fifth, retiring the Smokies in order. In the sixth, he struck out Bryce Ball to start the frame. Nelson Maldonado reached on an error, and that would bring an end to Silseth’s night. Kolton Ingram (L, 0-1) entered and allowed a single to Cole Roederer. Chase Strumpf then connected on a three-run home run, giving the Smokies the lead back at 4-2.
Trailing by multiple runs for the first time all night, Rocket City couldn’t take advantage of a leadoff walk in the sixth, as Horn (W, 1-0) struck out the next three hitters to hold the lead.
Sean McLaughlin kept the deficit at two with a clean seventh. Again, Rocket City was stumped offensively, this time by Blake Whitney, who struck out the side in order. The scene repeated in the eighth, with McLaughlin and Whitney matching zeros to send the game to the ninth. There, Jack Dashwood set the Smokies down in order. Down to their final out, the Trash Pandas stayed alive with Jeremiah Jackson’s double to deep center against closer Zac Leigh (S, 1). As the tying run, Teodosio lifted a drive to deep right, where a tremendous leaping catch from Perlaza in front of the wall saved at least one run and finished the win for Tennessee.
The Trash Pandas were held to four hits in the loss, with Neto’s home run and Jackson’s double being the only extra-base knocks. For Tennessee, the pitching quartet of Brown, Horn, Whitney, and Leigh combined to strike out 16 Trash Pandas.
The season comes down to a decisive Game 3 on Friday night at Toyota Field. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. Josh Caray will be on the call for 103.9 FM THE UMP and 730 AM SportsRadio.