While winning or losing can be secondary to player development in minor league baseball, both components are coming together this weekend at AT&T Field.
After winning Thursday night's series opener 1-0 behind Andres Santiago's no-hitter, Chattanooga dropped Friday's encounter to Tennessee 6-5 before a crowd of 4,922. The Smokies (33-34) and Lookouts (32-33) are tied again atop the Southern League's North Division with three games remaining, so whoever wins two of the next three will advance to next week's playoffs.
"This is tremendous for them," Lookouts manager Razor Shines said. "The ultimate goal is to win a World Series in L.A., and to be in a pennant race in this last weekend of the series -- in order to win a World Series, you've got to go through that. I'm excited that these kids are being able to go through this.
"This is the playoffs, and that's the message that has been transferred to our team. This is it. If we don't win this series, we're going home."
Tennessee squared the series and ended a seven-game losing streak behind Anthony Giansanti's single to right field in the fifth inning that scored Christian Villanueva to break a 5-5 tie. Five Smokies relief pitchers combined to hold the Lookouts scoreless over the last six innings.
Pin-Chieh Chen, Lars Anderson and Villanueva each doubled in the first inning as the Smokies took a 3-0 lead, and Giansanti's leadoff home run to left in the second inning made it 4-1. Chris O'Brien homered to right and Noel Cuevas had an RBI double later that inning to help Chattanooga pull even at 4-4.
Lookouts right fielder Scott Schebler said none of the players are trying to press this series, though everyone knows the situation.
"This is something that has built up throughout the course of the season, which is pretty cool," Schebler said. "You try not to let it get to your head. Sometimes it does, and that's how you learn."
The Smokies improved to 12-5 this season against the Lookouts and are scheduled to send C.J. Edwards to the mound for tonight's 7:15 start, with Matt Shelton scheduled for the Lookouts.
"We haven't played well against this team, so hopefully we can turn some things around," Schebler said.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.