KODAK, Tenn. — When Danny Hultzen pitched a scoreless first and Jackson Generals teammate Denny Almonte led off the bottom of the inning with a home run, it looked like the North Division was headed to yet another victory in the Southern League All-Star Game.
The South, however, wasn’t about to lose for an eighth consecutive year. The streak had gone on quite long enough.
“I talked to the guys before the game and I told them, ‘There is no point coming out here if you’re not playing to win,'” said South manager Turner Ward of the Mobile BayBears.
The South halted its slide Tuesday night, thanks partly to the big bat swung by one of Ward’s own players.
BayBears right fielder Alfredo Marte had two hits, including a double, drove in a run and scored another to capture Most Valuable Player honors as the South defeated the North, 6-2, before a crowd of 5,406 at Smokies Park.
“I feel great,” said Marte, who’s only other All-Star appearance came in 2009 for Class A South Bend of the Midwest League.
The hot hitting was a continuation of the way the 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic went into the break as Mobile won the South Division first-half championship.
“He has carried us at some points,” said Ward, who also guided the BayBears to the Southern League title last season. “He’s had a lot of big hits and played outstanding defense. He was definitely worthy of winning the MVP.”
Marte, who hit .442 with 11 RBIs over the final 13 games of the first half, had planned to return to the Dominican Republic during the All-Star break if he wasn’t selected for the game. Now he has something special to share with his family and friends back home.
“I will make a lot of calls,” said Marte, who finished the first half with a .283 average, 13 homers and 45 RBIs.
The game couldn’t have started better for the North. But after the opening inning, the South was in control.
“When Almonte hit that leadoff homer, I thought we were going to score a lot of runs,” said North manager Buddy Bailey of the host Tennessee Smokies.
It didn’t happen as the North pitching staff couldn’t match the South once Hultzen exited.
Rumored to be on the verge of a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, the Mariners’ top prospect needed only nine pitches to turn away the North in the first inning.
“I’m always happy to throw as few pitches as possible if I get outs,” said Hultzen, who was 8-3 with a league-leading 1.19 ERA for Jackson in the first half.
No wonder the left-hander is considered just too good for Double-A right now, even though this is his first Minor League season after Seattle selected him second overall in last yera’s Draft.
Hultzen did not allow a run in his final four starts of the first half and has a scoreless streak of 27 2/3 innings.
“It gets wearing being asked about what’s next,” said the former University of Virginia standout. “All I can do is pitch. I don’t know [about a promotion]. I haven’t been told.”
After striking out leadoff hitter Ryan LaMarre of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Hultzen walked Mobile’s David Nick on four pitches. But he finished his night on the next pitch, getting Matt Davidson of the BayBears to ground into a double play.
“When you see a guy dominating at this level and it is his first year, you’ve got something special,” Bailey said.
South starter Tyler Skaggs of Mobile couldn’t match Hultzen’s scoreless inning. Almonte, who tied for last in the All-Star Home Run Derby, picked on a 3-2 breaking ball and straightened it out. The homer landed on the berm in left field.
But the South scored three runs in the second and the North never got back in the game.
Marte doubled off Chattanooga’s Matt Magill and, after Montgomery’s Kyeong Kang walked, Mississippi’s Todd Cunningham delivered an RBI single. Steve Ames replaced his Lookouts teammate and gave up a single to Jacksonville’s Kyle Skipworth that loaded the bases. The tie-breaking runs scored when the North couldn’t complete a double play on a grounder by Didi Gregorius as Generals shortstop Nick Franklin committed a throwing error on the relay.
The South made it 5-1 with two more unearned runs in the third. Nick led off with a triple off Jackson’s Taijuan Walker and scored on an errant pickoff attempt by Generals catcher Jesus Sucre. Marte followed with an RBI single.
The North took advantage of Cunningham’s error in left field to get a run back in the fifth. Jim Adduci of the Smokies got the RBI with an infield hit.
But the South restored a four-run cushion in the eighth as Mobile’s Marc Krauss, the only repeat All-Star from last year, hit a leadoff double and came home on a pair of wild pitches.
The South outhit the North, 9-7. Adduci also doubled off the bench and was the only player on the North squad with more than one hit.
Skaggs, MLB.com’s No. 16 overall prospect, was credited with the win, despite allowing Almonte’s leadoff homer and walking a batter. Magill took the loss.
The South had not won the midseason classic since the league went to its present division setup in 2005.
Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.