The Tulsa Drillers got another outstanding effort from starting pitcher Tyler Matzek Saturday night in Little Rock, but it still was not enough to produce a victory. The Tulsa offense was blanked by group of four different Arkansas pitchers, and Randal Grichuk provided all of the game's scoring with a solo home run in the eighth inning as the Travelers defeated the Drillers 1-0 at Dickey-Stephens Ballpark.
The result combined with the Springfield's doubleheader split with Northwest Arkansas keeps the first-place Drillers ½ game in front of the Travelers and 1 game in front of the Cardinals with only two games remaining in the first half. Tulsa's magic number to clinch the first-half crown is now two over both Arkansas and Springfield. Barring a rainout, there can now be no first place tie in the standings.
Matzek turned in his fifth straight quality start and his fifth straight six-inning outing. The lefthander did not allow a run while surrendering four hits and three walks. He matched a season high with six strikeouts.
Arkansas starter Mike Piazza was just as impressive, allowing only two hits in six shutout innings.
The only offense came from Grichuk leading off the bottom of the eighth inning. The Travs' right fielder hit the very first pitch from reliever Juan Gonzalez over the left field wall for his 10th home run of the season. It was only the third earned run that Gonzalez has surrendered since being promoted to Tulsa last month.
The Drillers were limited to only four hits in the game. Their best chance to score came in the fourth inning when a pair of walks put runners at first and second with only one out, but Rafael Ortega was thrown out trying to steal third base. The failed attempt proved costly when Dustin Garneau followed with a base hit.
Despite the loss, the Drillers still control their own destiny in the pennant chase. One win in Springfield would eliminate the Cardinals, while a win and a Northwest Arkansas victory over Arkansas would eliminate the Travelers.
The first half will conclude on Monday.
The Drillers now travel to Springfield to close out the first half with a pair of games against the Cardinals. The opener is slated to begin at 6:09PM Sunday night with Christian Bergman (3-5, 3.10 ERA) taking the mound for Tulsa. Springfield has yet to announce a starting pitcher.