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'Riders force one-game showdown
09/15/2008 12:01 AM ET
FRISCO, Texas -- It was almost as if Game 1 looked in the mirror.

The Frisco RoughRiders snapped a scoreless tie in the seventh inning Sunday, scratching out three runs without hitting the ball out of the infield, and edged the Arkansas Travelers, 3-1, at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

The 'Riders' victory knotted the best-of-5 Texas League Championship Series at 2-2 and sets up a winner-takes-all title game Monday at 7 p.m. CT.

Fans in the know definitely expected a pitchers' duel, and they were not disappointed.

The pre-planned travel day between Games 2 and 3, combined with Saturday's rainout, courtesy of Hurricane Ike's fallout, allowed both teams to rest their pitchers and return to their Game 1 starters Sunday.

That meant that Frisco was able to hand the ball to its lone southpaw, Derek Holland, while Arkansas countered with lefty Daniel Davidson.

When the two last squared off on Sept. 9, the Travs snapped a scoreless tie with three unearned runs in the eighth for a 3-0 victory. In that game, Davidson got the win with seven innings of five-hit ball, while Holland allowed all three runs and lost.

This time, as the two lefties wearing No. 36 on their uniforms squared off, it was déjà vu for the first six-plus innings as they put zeros on the scoreboard.

Trailing in the series, 2-1, following Friday's 10-3 rout by the Travelers, the RoughRiders saw a few scoring opportunities squandered as they left two runners on in both the fifth and sixth.

In the seventh, though, they finally broke through. Steve Murphy got things started as he bunted for a base hit, moving to second when Danielson threw the ball away. Tim Gradoville laid down a bunt that catcher Ben Johnson fielded and whipped to third, where Murphy beat the throw.

That marked the end of the night for Davidson, who gave way to Barret Browning, the same reliever who came on for him to preserve the Sept. 9 shutout.

This time, however, 20-year-old shortstop phenom Elvis Andrus delivered a one-out infield hit up the middle to score Murphy and break the deadlock. Andrus had grounded back to the pitcher with two outs and two on in his previous at-bat, so he was very happy to have a chance at redemption.

"I just wanted to bring the run home any way to take the RBI," said Andrus, who hit .295 with 54 steals during the regular season. "We won the game and we're ready for tomorrow."

After both runners moved up on a groundout, Chad Tracy laced a hard shot to third that Corey Smith fielded cleanly but overthrew first baseman Mark Trumbo, allowing both runners to score and giving Frisco a 3-0 lead.

The Travelers ended the shutout bid in the eighth when Nate Sutton singled home Jordan Czarniecki with two out, but that was all they managed off the Frisco pitching staff.

Brandon Puffer notched the save with a perfect ninth, striking out Arkansas' most dangerous postseason run-producer, Hank Conger, to send the series to a rubber game.

Although Holland didn't get the decision, he was masterful, allowing two hits while striking out six in six innings without walking a batter. During the season, he combined to go 13-1 with a 2.27 ERA between Class A Clinton, Advanced Class A Bakersfield and Frisco, including a 3-0 mark and 0.69 ERA in four starts for the RoughRiders. In 26 Texas League innings, he fanned 29.

Holland finished the postseason allowing one earned run over 20 1/3 innings, striking out 18.

Clayton Hamilton (1-0) got the win, yielding one hit over 1 2/3 shutout innings. Davidson (1-1) was charged with one earned run in six-plus innings and took the loss.

If the RoughRiders (84-56) win the Texas League title, they may have to make some offerings to the weather gods that allowed them to not only send Holland to the hill for Game 4 but also give the ball one more time to Monday night starter Neftali Feliz.

The 20-year-old has been one of the most dominant postseason pitchers with a 1.38 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 13 innings over two starts. He and Andrus were among the five prospects acquired from Atlanta last summer in the trade for Mark Teixeira.

Arkansas likely will counter with Robert Mosebach, its Game 2 starter who allowed four runs -- three earned -- over 3 1/3 innings in that 4-3 loss.

Andrus, for one, likes his team's chances.

"When you have guys like that pitching, with Holland doing a great job tonight and Feliz, we hope, doing the same thing tomorrow, you feel good," he said. "You know with those pitchers you don't need that many runs, so we're just going to try to score early."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.