The Chattanooga Lookouts have reservations to play past Labor Day.
Chattanooga clinched the Southern League's North Division first-half title Friday night with a 5-3 win over Tennessee before a crowd of 7,154 at Smokies Stadium in Kodak. The triumph was the eighth in nine games for the 40-28 Lookouts, who trailed both Tennessee and Montgomery before their timely surge.
"I think this all kind of started with our starting pitching," Lookouts first-year manager Jake Mauer said after the game by phone. "They gave us five or six innings almost every night and some nights gave us seven. That really allows your bullpen to line up the way you want, and I think we really picked the right time for our offense to start clicking.
"We did this on the road against some pretty good teams."
The first-half title is the second in three seasons for the Lookouts, who are in their third year as Class AA affiliates of the Minnesota Twins. Chattanooga went 43-25 during the first half in 2015 and wound up winning that season's league championship, which was the first for the franchise since 1988.
Chattanooga trailed 3-2 entering the ninth inning Friday before benefiting from a complete Smokies meltdown after T.J. White's leadoff single to center off relief pitcher Ryan McNeil. White reached second on a passed ball, and then Levi Michael drew a walk.
A throwing error by Tennessee first baseman Yasiel Balaguert on a force attempt sailed all the way to Chattanooga's bullpen, which resulted in White and Michael scoring to put the Lookouts up 4-3. They went up 5-3 later in the ninth on another passed ball.
"It was an interesting game, no doubt about it," Mauer said. "They tried to get the lead out at third, and there was a lot of room for that ball to roll. That gave us a couple, and then a passed ball gave us another one.
"It happened pretty quick, and we were fortunate. We had a quick handshake on the field, and then we got in the clubhouse and started acting like idiots."
Chattanooga has won 17 of 24 games since May 22, when the Lookouts were 23-21 and in fourth place in their division. Included in this recent run has been a 9-1 record against Montgomery.
Lookouts starting pitchers Fernando Romero and Felix Jorge have each gone 4-0 with a no-decision during this stretch, while shortstop Nick Gordon (.313) and right fielder Edgar Corcino (.302) have continued to assert themselves in the Southern League batting race.
The Lookouts will close out the first half with two more games against the Smokies (36-31), with the first of those scheduled for tonight. Jorge (7-1, 3.00) is expected to start for Chattanooga, with Jen-Ho Tseng (6-1, 2.71) scheduled for Tennessee.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.