By David Paschall
For The Birmingham News
CHATTANOOGA – Jesse Gutierrez played hometown hero Tuesday night, leading the East Division to a 10-6 triumph at the Southern League All-Star Game.
The Chattanooga Lookouts first baseman went 3-for-5 and scored twice in earning game MVP honors. He was a triple away from the cycle before a near-capacity crowd of 5,857 at BellSouth Park.
“Considering this is my first time in a game like this, it’s a great feeling,” Gutierrez said.
“Every time you step on the field should be your best performance. You never know who happens to be watching.”
A solo home run by Gutierrez in the bottom of the second ignited an eight-run inning that resulted in an 8-2 lead. Tennessee right fielder Papo Bolivar accounted for half of the runs that inning with a grand slam off the Budweiser Pavilion in right.
Every East Division batter scored in the second inning with the exception of Greenville designated hitter Napoleon Calzado, but Calzado and Gutierrez came across in the sixth on Gabe Johnson’s pinch-hit double that made it 10-5.
The West had pulled within 8-4 in the third on a two-run homer by Mobile’s Greg Sain and within 8-5 in the fourth on an RBI double by West Tenn’s Ronny Cedeno.
“You can never be too far ahead in an All-Star game,” said East team and Tennessee Smokies manager Mark DeJohn.
Mobile’s Chris Rojas was tagged for seven runs in the second inning and was pulled before recording an out. Rojas said he threw a lot of fastballs and should have mixed things up.
Birmingham catcher Carlos Maldonado went 0-for-2 for the West before being replaced by West Tenn’s Geovany Soto. Barons reliever Matt Smith allowed the two-run double to Johnson in the sixth.
Southern League president Don Mincher said he was “90 percent sure” divisions will shift to North and South next season. Mincher and league owners met Tuesday morning for two hours.
“Unless we run into some serious problems in scheduling, it will be North and South,” Mincher said.
Under the new format, Chattanooga will be in the North with Carolina, Tennessee, West Tenn and Huntsville. The South will consist of Birmingham, Montgomery, Jacksonville, Mobile and the new team in Pearl, Miss., which will be moving from Greenville, S.C.
The league has employed East and West divisions since splitting in 1972.
Mincher also said next year’s SL All-Star game will be played on a Wednesday so it will not run simultaneously with the Major League All-Star game.