One night after the Tulsa Drillers enjoyed a memorable evening at ONEOK Field by clinching their third straight first-half North Division Title, it was Arkansas Travelers pitcher Drew Rucinski who enjoyed a memorable game Thursday in downtown Tulsa. In a return home for Rucinski, the former Union High School hurler and Broken Arrow native defeated the Tulsa Drillers 12-6.
One bright spot for Tulsa was Taylor Featherston. The shortstop hit two home runs to become the first Drillers player with a multi-homer game this season.
Ruckinski, who was named to the Texas League North Division All-Star Team on Monday, worked seven efficient innings to improve his record to 5-4. The right-hander allowed only five hits and two runs. He did not issue a walk while collecting five strikeouts and needed only 75 pitches to work the seven innings.
The final score was somewhat misleading, as Arkansas was leading 10-2 when Rucinski left the game. The Drillers scored four times in the eighth inning against reliever Nick Maronde.
Mike Piazza made his first start on the mound for the Drillers. Piazza, who pitched for the Travelers in each of the last two seasons, joined the Drillers earlier this week after beginning the year pitching in the independent American Association for the Laredo Lemurs.
The Travelers greeted their former teammate with runs in each of the first two innings. In the top of the first, leadoff batter Maikol Gonzalez walked on four straight pitches. After stealing both second and third bases, Gonzalez scored the game's first run on a ground out by Alex Yarbrough.
In the second, a double by Gonzalez scored Eric Stamets to give Arkansas a 2-0 lead.
The Drillers got on the board with a run against Rucinski in the bottom of the fourth. Joey Wong doubled and scored on another two-base hit by Ryan Casteel.
The Travs put the game out of reach with six runs in the sixth inning. Reliever Nate Striz was charged for all six runs, surrendering six hits and one walk. Brandon Erbe recorded the final out of the inning, but he threw two wild pitches and issued a walk before it concluded with Arkansas holding an 8-1 lead.
Featherston accounted for Tulsa's second run, hitting his first homer of the night leading off the bottom of the sixth.
The Travelers added two more runs in the seventh before the Drillers made things much closer with their four-run eighth inning. Jose Gonzalez walked in front of Featherston's second homer of the night and his sixth of the season that made it 10-4.
Maronde then walked Wong before surrendering another two-run shot to Casteel. It was Casteel's team-leading eighth homer of the year.
Arkansas out-hit Tulsa 14-8 in the game, and Drillers pitchers issued a season high 11 walks.
The top of the ninth epitomized the night for Tulsa. Reliever Nelson Gonzalez did not record an out and surrendered two runs, before manager Kevin Riggs handed the ball to Wong. In his first pitching appearance in professional baseball, the infielder retired all three batters he faced, with the final out coming on a strikeout.
The Drillers' offensive output came from the top of the order with the first three spots accounting for seven of their eight hits. Featherston, hitting in the leadoff spot, finished with three hits and three runs batted in. Wong and Casteel had two hits each, with Casteel also adding three RBI.
Tulsa and Arkansas will be back in action Friday night at ONEOK Field. Travis Anderson (3-2, 2.87 ERA) will pitch for the Drillers against Orangel Arenas (5-2, 2.47 ERA) of the Travelers. Starting time is set for 7:05PM with a Fireworks Show scheduled for after the game.