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Varner lights up Smokies with five RBIs
By NICK GATES, email@example.com
May 25, 2006
SEVIERVILLE - A Tennessee Smokies fan leaned over the railing at Smokies Park and asked Chattanooga Lookouts outfielder Noochie Varner for an autograph. "I think they made a mistake letting you go," she said, smiling.
Sure looks that way.
Varner was 3-for-4 with a home run and five RBI to power the Chattanooga Lookouts to a 7-4 Southern League victory over Tennessee on Wednesday night before 2,576.
The familiar cry of "Noochie, Noochie, Noochie!" boomed through the concourse before Varner drove a Garrett Mock pitch over the fence in left field for a three-run home run in the first inning.
"Bet you can't do that again," was all the disappointed Smoky fan managed before Varner stepped into the batter's box for his second at-bat.
The Lookouts (31-17) have won six in a row. The Cincinnati Reds' Class AA farmhands are out in front of the North Division pack by three games.
Mock (1-5) struggled from the get-go.
Chattanooga's Javon Moran singled to start the game and Joey Votto doubled beyond the reach of right fielder Jon Zeringue an out later. Varner followed with his fourth homer.
That was all of a head start Chattanooga starter Tyler Pelland (3-1) needed. He limited the Smokies (21-26) to four hits and a run in his five-inning stint.
Varner made it 4-1 with a run-scoring single in the sixth and knocked in another run with a single off reliever Matt Wilkinson in the seventh. He also walked.
The 25-year-old from Cynthiana, Ky., was looking for a fresh start after he hit .278 with three homers and 41 RBI for Tennessee last year.
"I asked for my release during the offseason," he said. "I thought I had no future with them (Diamondbacks). I played two years ago in Triple-A and hit .321 and they sent me back to Double-A last year. I had to battle to get in the lineup and I wasn't happy."
Arizona threw Varner a curve at the end of spring training.
"I thought I was going to be in Triple-A with the Diamondbacks and they told me the last day they were letting me go," he said.
Varner was unemployed for about an hour.
"I was driving to my hotel and they (Reds) called my cell phone," he said.
Cincinnati's 10th-round draft pick in 2000 is hitting .500 (11-for-22) against the Smokies in his second tour of duty in the Reds' organization.
"They (Reds) know me," Varner said. "They told me they had plans for me and we got it (contract) done in a couple of hours.
Varner doesn't have a vendetta against the Smokies. It just seems that way with the way he is playing against his former team.
"I've been playing for a long time and for four different organizations," he said. "I'm happy and it just so happens I've been swinging the bat well."
Zeringue and Steve Garrabrants homered for the Smokies.
Timely hits have been few and far between for Zeringue in the series. He popped out with the bases full in the first. The former LSU star left the bases loaded twice in Tennessee's 9-5 loss Tuesday. He emerged from a zero-for-10 funk with a solo home run off reliever Edward Valdez.
Agustin Murillo drove in two runs for Tennessee with a pair of two-out singles.