By Josh Cook
The Louisville Bats started out with a bang Tuesday night, and didn't stop there.
Wladimir Balentien's first-inning grand slam got the Bats' offense going early, and it was only just the beginning as Louisville lambasted Charlotte 19-6 in front of 11,237 at Louisville Slugger Field.
In addition to their four-run first, the Bats (54-50) also scored seven runs in the fifth and six in the seventh on their way to their fifth straight win, their eighth in nine games and their 18th in 23. It also moved them within 9 1/2 games of International League West-leading Columbus and tied them with Syracuse for the wildcard playoff spot.
In addition to Balentien's big blast, Chris Dickerson, Danny Dorn and Chris Valaika also homered as Louisville added to its IL-leading total of 121.
Every Bats' starter had a hit, and all but one of those had multiple hits, as Louisville laced 22 hits. Yonder Alonso, who is hitting .365 in July, went 4-for-6, while Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier and Balentien had three hits apiece.
That was more than enough offense to support Louisville starter Ben Jukich (4-4), who picked up his first victory since July 5.
Dickerson led off the bottom of the first with a single, but was erased when Cozart grounded into a fielder's choice. Frazier's two-out single moved Cozart to second, then both advanced when Charlotte starter Matt Zaleski walked Juan Francisco. Balentien followed with his grand slam, his team-leading 19th home run of the season.
The Bats made it 5-0 in the second inning when Wilkin Castillo singled with one out, moved to second on Cozart's single, then scored on Alonso's double.
The Knights (52-53), though, tied the game in their next two at-bats. Jeremy Reed led off the third with a double. He moved to third on a ground out, then scored on a fielding error by Francisco at third.
Charlotte tied the game in the fourth on Josh Kroeger's grand slam.
The Bats answered quickly. Dickerson hit a two-out solo home in the bottom of the inning before Louisville broke the game open in the fifth.
Alonso and Frazier led off with back-to-back singles before Francisco's double scored Alonso to chase Zaleski (6-7), who gave up 10 hits and nine earned runs in four innings.
A wild pitch by new pitcher Angel Garcia scored Frazier and advanced Francisco to third. Balentien followed with a single to bring in Francisco. Dorn flew out - the first out of the inning - before back-to-back singles by Valaika and Castillo. The latter brought Balentien home. Dickerson walked to load the bases and set up a two-run single by Cozart. After a coaching visit to the mound Alonso singled, and Dickerson scored, thanks to an error on Kroeger, the first baseman.
A 13-5 lead was more than enough for Jukich, who didn't have quite the run support in his previous two outings. Jukich, who was coming off a pair of no decisions in which he allowed a combined total of three earned runs, yielded four hits and five runs (four earned) while walking one and striking out two against the Knights.
Charlotte scored one run in the sixth off recent Reds signee Jason Isringhausen.
But all the Bats did was respond with a six-run seventh. Cozart singled with one out, and Alonso followed with one of his own. Frazier followed with a double to drive in Cozart, then Francisco doubled to bring in Alonso and Frazier as the Bats went an incredible 10-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
After Balentien struck out Dorn homered to chase Miguel Socolovich. Valaika then greeted new pitcher Randy Williams with a solo home run to center field.
Louisville relievers Russ Springer, Aroldis Chapman, Daniel Ray Herrera and Jared Burton gave up only one hit over the last 3 1/3 innings.
Louisville hosts Charlotte again at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday night. It's "Ladies' Night" at LSF, so females 13 and older can purchase half-price field reserved tickets.
Photo courtesy Louisville Bats