The Tulsa Drillers wrapped up the 2017 regular season Monday afternoon with an 8-7 loss to the Springfield Cardinals at ONEOK Field. With the end of the regular season, the Drillers attention can now turn toward the Texas League Playoffs which will begin Wednesday night.
Tulsa will face Northwest Arkansas in the best-of-five North Division Playoff Series with the winner advancing to the Texas League Championship Series.
The loss in Monday's finale left the Drillers with a 77-63 overall record, including a 44-26 mark in the second half of the season. The 77 wins tie for the second-most in franchise history, only one win shy of matching the record 78 wins by the 1998 Texas League Championship squad. The 44 wins in the second half are the third-most in a half in franchise history.
Despite the defeat, Tulsa finished the regular season by winning 17 of its final 19 home games.
Early in Monday's finale, it looked as if the Drillers would match the team record for win. After a scoreless first inning, they took an initial lead with a pair of runs in the second. Blake Gailen doubled and Peter O'Brien drew a walk. Drew Jackson plated Gailen with a base hit, and Garrett Kennedy singled home O'Brien.
Tulsa starting pitcher Andrew Sopko retired the first six batters he faced before running into trouble in the top of the third. The trouble began when Andrew Knizner reached safely on third baseman Matt Beaty's error. Three straight singles from the Cardinals produced two runs to tie the game a 2-2.
Eliezer Alvarez put the Redbirds in front when he led off the fourth inning with his fourth homer of the year. They added to their lead when John Nogowski followed the homer with a base hit and Knizner doubled him home. A run-scoring hit by Magneuris Sierra upped the Springfield lead to 5-2.
A solo home run leading off the top of the seventh by Oscar Mercado increased the margin to four runs.
The Cards added a pair of what proved to be important insurance runs in the top of the ninth because the Drillers stage rally in the bottom of the inning.
Johan Mieses opened the ninth with his 16th Double-A home run. With two outs, an error extended the inning before singles by Yusniel Diaz and Shibuya loaded the bases. Gailen cleared them with a grand slam home run into the Busch Terrace in left field that cut the Springfield lead to a single run.
Peter O'Brien flied out to left field on the next pitch to put an end to the game.
Beaty entered the game in a virtual three-way tie for the Texas League batting title. He batted twice, getting one hit to raise his batting average to .32648, one point ahead of Midland's B.J. Boyd and Arkansas' Ian Miller. Boyd and the RockHounds were scheduled to begin play later on Sunday, while Miller is no longer in the Texas League. Beaty would be the first Drillers player to ever win a TL batting crown.
Beaty left the game in the bottom of the fifth when pitcher Tim Shibuya pinch-hit for him. Shibuya stayed in the game and played third base, his first appearance in the field since playing one game in the outfield during the 2015 season.
The Drillers will have a day off on Tuesday before opening the Texas League Playoffs on Wednesday night. Tulsa will begin the best-of-five series in Springdale, Arkansas against the Naturals at Arvest Ballpark. The Drillers will be on the road for the first two games before coming home for game three and, if necessary, games four and five.
Starting time for Wednesday's opener is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Dennis Higgins will have the call on AM 1430 the Buzz. The broadcast will also be available online through TulsaDrillers.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.