Roy Oswalt made it look easy on Friday night. The 35-year old did his best to alleviate any doubts about his still belonging in the big leagues, throwing 8 1/3 shutout innings to lead the Tulsa Drillers to a crucial 2-0 victory over the Arkansas Travelers at Dickey-Stephens Park in Little Rock.
With the win, Tulsa's magic number is now three. The Drillers are 1 1/2 games ahead of Arkansas in the Texas League North with three games remaining in the first half of the season. The Drillers will play one more in Little Rock on Saturday before finishing off the first half in Springfield.
The three-time All-Star Oswalt saved his best for what will likely be his last start with the Drillers, allowing just five hits, while striking out seven and walking one. In five starts with Tulsa, he has compiled a 3-2 record to go along with a 2.16 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 33.1 innings.
With Colorado Rockies Director of Pitching Operations Mark Wiley in attendance, Oswalt also showed off his endurance and arm strength Friday, throwing 102 pitches in the contest, while hitting as high as 95 mph on the stadium radar gun.
Dustin Garneau provided Oswalt with the only run he would need in the second. The catcher led off the inning by belting a 1-0 offering from Arkansas starter Lay Batista over the wall in left for his fifth home run of the season.
Although they were able to surge ahead in the inning, Tulsa missed a great chance to pile on more runs in the top of the second. Following Garneau's leadoff homer, the Drillers loaded the bases without recording an out. They were unable to convert on the opportunity however, as Jaron Shepherd lined into a double play before Delta Cleary Jr. ended the inning with a groundout.
Shepherd and Cleary Jr. would be vindicated before it was all said and done.
With two outs in the fourth, Shepherd reached on a throwing error by second baseman Taylor Lindsey. The left fielder hit what looked to be a routine groundball to the end the inning, but put pressure on Lindsey by sprinting out of the batter's box to force an errant throw. He then stole second base to setup an RBI single by Cleary Jr. that made it 2-0.
Cleary Jr. also made a big catch in the ninth to help secure the victory. After Oswalt exited the game with a runner on first and one out in the final frame, Randal Grichuk hit a sharp, sinking liner to right off reliever Leuris Gomez. Cleary Jr. got a good jump on the ball and made a sliding catch to rob Grichuk of a big base knock.
Gomez would go on to induce a game-ending popup from Lindsey to record his first save of the season.
The Drillers and Travelers will play the finale of their four-game series Saturday night at Dickey-Stephens Park. Tulsa will send left-hander Tyler Matzek (3-5, 4.24 ERA) to the mound as they continue their push towards a second straight first-half division title. Arkansas will counter with right-hander Mike Piazza (2-2, 4.13 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10PM.