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Serna’s seven RBIs not enough, Tarpons lose slugfest

Jared Serna watches his second HR of the night leave GMS Field on Friday night. (Maggie Christensen)
July 14, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. - The boys are back in town. After spending ten days away from George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Tampa Tarpons (9-7) returned home Friday night and dropped the first game of a short three-game set to the Lakeland Flying Tigers (11-5). Despite SS Jared Serna’s two-homer and seven

TAMPA, Fla. - The boys are back in town. After spending ten days away from George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Tampa Tarpons (9-7) returned home Friday night and dropped the first game of a short three-game set to the Lakeland Flying Tigers (11-5). Despite SS Jared Serna’s two-homer and seven RBI performance, Lakeland extended their winning streak to eleven games. Tampa rallied in the ninth, putting the tying runs on first and second, but an unsuccessful double steal attempt ended their rally.

CF Greg Allen started his MLB rehab stint (right hip flexor strain) in Tampa, going 2-for-3 while playing five innings in center field. The switch hitter’s first at-bat came from the right side. Allen lined a 104 MPH single to left field. After grounding out in his second trip to the plate, Allen laced another single (103 MPH) to center field, this time from the left side.

Even with Lakeland putting up a crooked number, RHP Leonardo Pestana (2.1IP, H, 2R, 2BB, 3K) looked solid on the hill for Tampa. He only gave up one hit while fanning three in his two plus innings of work. Pestana used his slider, cutter, and fastball to hold down the Flying Tigers. Lakeland batters averaged an exit velocity of 82.6 MPH off Pestana.

The Flying Tigers scored two runs in the second inning after loading the bases. Mike Rothenberg walked, Abel Bastidas lined a single to right field, and Cristian Santana drew another free pass. Pestana struck out Manuel Saquera on a wild pitch to the backstop, which allowed Rothenberg to cross the plate as the game’s first run. A balk brought in the second run of the frame. Serna ended the frame with a superb diving play. He ranged into the hole, made a full-body dive, and popped up to throw out J.D. McLaughlin as the crowd went wild.

The Tarpons’ offense woke up from their All-Star break slumber in the second. DH Omar Martinez continued his hot streak out of the break, belting his seventh longball of the year over the wall in right field to bring Tampa within one. 3B Brett Barrera walked and advanced to third on a base hit off the bat of 1B Ronny Rojas. RF Felix Negueis knotted the game at two with a 100 MPH RBI single to left. The scoring did not stop there. Serna launched a 367-foot home run to cap off Tampa’s five-run second inning.

Lakeland batted around when RHP Kris Bow lost command in the fourth. After Mike Rothenberg singled, Bow loaded the bases with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Bow plunked his second batter in a row, which pulled Lakeland to within two. With the bases still juiced, Seth Stephenson grounded out to third, allowing the tying run to come in to score. Lakeland regained the lead on a SAC-fly to right field from Luke Gold. Andrew Jenkins doubled to continue the nightmare inning. Jose De La Cruz added yet another run on an RBI single past the diving glove of Rojas.

The rehab duo of Allen and C Ben Rice cut the Flying Tigers’ lead to one in the fifth. Allen singled, and Rice blasted a no-doubt 399-foot home run. It was Rice’s second long ball in his rehab stint with the Tarpons.

Seth Stephenson hugged a sixth-inning leadoff double down the line that rolled into the left-field corner. A hit-by-pitch and walk followed to load the bases. The struggles continued for Tampa's pitching staff as De La Cruz lifted a grand slam over the right-center wall to extend the lead to five.

After giving up another run in the top of the seventh, Negueis led off the home half with a walk, which turned the lineup over to Serna. Serna mashed his second round tripper of the night, giving him a league-leading 16 home runs.

After two quick outs in the eighth, Rojas walked, and Negueis reached base for the third time when he got drilled by a sinker. Serna stepped up to the plate and came through once again. A two-RBI single to left field brought Tampa back to within two, giving Serna a whopping seven RBIs on the night. Serna also leads the Florida State League with 58 RBIs.

Tampa would not go down without a fight. Down three in the ninth, Rice singled, LF Jesus Rodriguez walked, and 2B Brenny Escanio walked to load the bases. Barrera hit a SAC-fly to trim the deficit to two. With two outs,Rodriguez on second and Escanio on first, Tampa elected to try for a double steal. Rodriguez was thrown out at third, and Tampa’s hopes of a rally went to the wayside, ending the slugfest.

The Tarpons will face the Flying Tigers for the middle game of the three-game set tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. LHP Brock Selvidge will take the ball for Latin Heritage Night at GMS Field.