The Tulsa Drillers made ONEOK Field history Wednesday night. The Drillers staged a late rally to defeat the Arkansas Travelers 2-1 and clinch the Texas League's North Division first-half title and the playoff berth that goes with it. It is the first time that the Drillers have won a title in their new downtown ballpark.
It is the third straight first-half crown for Tulsa, but the previous two were clinched in road games. The title clinches a Texas League playoff berth for the Drillers and they will host games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five North Division Playoff Series in September at ONEOK Field.
For much of Wednesday's game, it looked as if the Drillers would have to wait at least another 24 hours to wrap up the first-half title. Arkansas starting pitcher Kramer Sneed was outstanding, blanking Tulsa through the first seven innings. The lefthander surrendered only three hits and issued only one walk in seven shutout innings. Sneed needed only 87 pitches to get through the seven innings.
Tulsa's Carlos Hernandez was also impressive, but the Travelers did push across a first-inning run against the lefthander. Maikol Gonzalez opened the game with a leadoff double. Hernandez struck out the next two hitters before Brian Hernandez brought Gonzalez home with the game's first run on a two-out single.
The Travelers maintained their one-run lead until Sneed departed after the seventh inning. Reliever Danny Reynolds came on and Jose Gonzalez greeted him with a leadoff single. After a sacrifice bunt, Taylor Featherston singled to put runners at first and third. Cristhian Adames then delivered the title-winning hit with a double into the left-center field gap that scored both Gonzalez and Featherston to put the Drillers in front 2-1.
Cole White took over for reliever Ken Roberts and worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close out the victory.
Roberts picked up the win to improve his record to 3-2. He allowed only one hit in three shutout innings.
Hernandez pitched five innings and allowed four hits, three in the first inning, and one run. The trio of Tulsa pitchers did not walk a batter.
The two teams will continue their series Thursday night. The Drillers are expected to add free agent pitcher Mike Piazza to start the game. Piazza, who pitched for the Travelers in each of the last three seasons, has spent this year pitching for the Laredo Lemurs in the independent American Association, going 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA. Arkansas will start former Tulsa Union High School pitcher Drew Rucinski (4-4, 2.73 ERA). Starting time in downtown Tulsa is scheduled for 7:05PM.
NOTES: The Colorado Rockies announced Wednesday that Tulsa pitcher Dan Winkler will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. Winkler came out of his start on Saturday with elbow pain. Winkler was leading the Texas League with a 1.41 ERA. . .Tyler Massey was hitless in three at-bats and saw his 11-game hitting streak come to an end. . .Catcher Jose Gonzalez was activated prior to the game. Gonzalez, who played for the Drillers in each of the past two seasons, was signed as a free agent after spending the first part of the season playing in the independent Frontier League.