The Tulsa Drillers have waited since clinching the first-half North Division title on June 17 for the beginning of the Texas League Playoffs. The wait finally ended Wednesday night at ONEOK Field, but the result was not what the Drillers had hoped for. The second-half champion Arkansas Travelers scored four runs before Tulsa ever came to the plate and recorded an 8-3 victory in the opening game of the best-of-five division series.
The Drillers will now face a near must-win situation Thursday night in their final home game of the series. Tulsa will need a victory to avoid falling into a 0-2 hole before moving to Little Rock for the final three games of the series.
The Travelers used an impressive power display to take the series opener. They hit four home runs against Tulsa starter and Texas League All-Star Christian Bergman.
It was more than enough offense for Arkansas starting pitcher Michael Roth, who has pitched in 15 games in the major leagues this season for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Roth worked the first seven innings, surrendering only two runs on five hits to record the win.
The left-hander worked with a lead the entire night thanks to his teammates' big first inning. After Bergman retired Drillers nemesis Randal Grichuk to open the game, he issued a walk to Taylor Lindsey. Cyle Hankerd reached safely on a throwing error by third baseman Jayson Langfels, putting runners at first and third. C.J. Cron then cleared the bases with a three-run homer down the right field line to give the Travelers the early lead.
Robbie Widlansky followed Cron's homer with one of his own to make it back-to-back homers and give Arkansas and Roth a quick 4-0 lead.
The Drillers got on the board in the bottom of the third. After an error and a walk put runners at first and second with two outs, Kyle Parker grounded a base hit into left field that plated Delta Cleary Jr. Tulsa missed a chance to make it a bigger inning, however, as Cristhian Adames was thrown out trying to advance to third just after Cleary Jr. crossed the plate.
Tulsa moved closer with another run in the fourth. Angelys Nina doubled with one out and moved to third on a base hit by Dustin Garneau. After Tom Murphy was retired on strikes, Langfels brought home Nina with a two-out base hit that pulled the Drillers to within 4-2.
It would be all Travelers from that point forward as they used two more homers to restore their four-run lead. Grichuk belted a one-out solo shot in the fifth. It was the right fielder's 12th home run against the Drillers this season.
Cron then struck again in the sixth with his second homer of the night. The solo blast gave the Travs a 6-2 lead.
Arkansas capped off its scoring with single runs in both the seventh and eighth innings. In the seventh, Tulsa reliever Leuris Gomez allowed a single to Grichuk, who then scored on a double by Lindsey.
In the eighth, Travis Witherspoon was hit by a pitch from Mike Solbach, and eventually came around to score on a wild pitch from the right-hander.
Bergman worked into the sixth inning and was charged with six runs, five earned. He allowed only five hits, but four of them were home runs.
Nick Maronde, another hurler with big league experience this season, followed Roth to the mound and worked a perfect eighth inning.
The Drillers did add a consolation run off Ryan Chaffee in the bottom of the ninth. Kiel Roling doubled and moved to third on a hit by Nina before Garneau walked to load the bases. Chaffee recovered to strike out Murphy and Langfels before uncorking a wild pitch that allowed Roling to come home with Tulsa's third run.
Tyler Kuhn was retired on strikes to end the threat and the game.
Arkansas only out-hit the Drillers 8-7 in the game, but took advantage of the four homers. Cron finished 2-5 with 4 RBI.
Nina was the only Tulsa player with a multi-hit game, going 2-4 with a double.
Game 2 of the series is scheduled for Thursday night at ONEOK Field. The pitching matchup will feature Tyler Matzek (8-9, 3.79 ERA) for the Drillers against Lay Batista (5-8, 3.37 ERA) of the Travelers. Starting time in downtown Tulsa is scheduled for 7:05PM.