Facing a must-win situation Saturday night at ONEOK Field, the Tulsa Drillers staved off elimination from the Texas League Playoffs with a 16-8 victory over Northwest Arkansas in one of the wildest games of the season. The Drillers spotted the Naturals an early lead, rallied with a six-run fifth inning before watching a four-run lead of their own slip away. In the back-and-forth game, Tulsa delivered the final blow with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth to eventually claim the victory.
The result sets up a winner-take-all matchup in the best-of-five series Sunday night at ONEOK Field. Sunday's winner will advance to face either Midland or San Antonio in the Texas League Championship Series. Those two teams will also play a Game 5 on Sunday in San Antonio.
The Drillers Game 4 victory featured a combined 24 runs and 31 hits. The 16 runs for Tulsa matched a season high.
Early on, it looked as if Northwest Arkansas would produce all of the night's offense as it jumped out to a four-lead. It began in the third when Tulsa pitcher Yadier Alvarez opened the inning by walking Donnie Dewees on five pitches. After a wild pitch, Samir Duenez lined a base hit into right field to bring Dewees home with the first run of the game. Diaz struck out Ryan O'Hearn, but Mauricio Ramos lined a double down the left field line that scored Duenez, who was running on the pitch, with the second run of the inning.
Northwest Arkansas plated two more runs in the fourth. With two outs and a runner at first, Dewees grounded a single into left field, and when Kyle Garlick's throw to third was not in time to get base runner Humberto Arteaga, Dewees raced to second. A base hit to center by Jack Lopez scored both runners to give the Naturals a 4-0 lead.
The Drillers comeback began in the bottom half of the fourth. Matt Beaty led off with a base hit and advanced to third on a double by Garlick. Beaty scored on a ground out from Blake Gailen, and Garlick came home on a sacrifice fly by Erick Mejia.
Tulsa's comeback continued in the fifth inning and began when Peter O'Brien led off with an impressive blast. The first baseman deposited an offering from Zach Lovvorn halfway up the hitter's background in straightaway centerfield to cut the Northwest Arkansas lead to 4-3. The homer travelled an estimated 433 feet.
Lovvorn retired the next two batters, but his night came to an end when Yusniel Diaz lined a two-out single into left field. Walker Sheller relieved for the Naturals and was greeted with a double from Beaty that scored Diaz to tie the game at 4-4.
Garlick hit the next pitch from Sheller just over the wall in left-center field for a two-run homer that gave the Drillers their first lead.
Gailen kept the inning alive with a base, and Mejia drew a walk. A run-scoring single by Drew Jackson upped the Tulsa lead to three runs. When Sheller uncorked a wild pitch, Mejia raced home to give the Drillers an 8-4 lead.
It was very short-lived as the Naturals answered with a big inning of their own against Andrew Sopko in the sixth. Dewees again started it with a leadoff single, before Sopko hit Jack Lopez with a pitch. Following a wild pitch, Duenez lined a single to score Dewees. O'Hearn followed with a three-run homer that erased the Tulsa lead and tied the game at 8-8.
The back-and-forth action continued as the Drillers produced a two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth. With the bases empty, Naturals reliever Matt Tenuta hit Beaty with a pitch, and Garlick kept the inning going with a base hit. Gailen followed with a two-run double that put Tulsa back in front, 10-8.
Tulsa finally put the game away with another six-run uprising in the eighth. Gailen plated the first two runs with a double, his fourth hit of the night. A pair of two-run singles by Drew Jackson and Yusniel Diaz capped the big inning and closed out the scoring.
On a night when pitching suffered, reliever Karch Kowalczyk turned in a big performance for the Drillers. Kowalczyk allowed only one hit in keeping the Naturals off the scoreboard in the sixth and seventh innings to pick up the win.
Brian Moran, Daniel Corcino and Corey Copping combined to record the final six outs and close out the victory.
The 18 hits for the Drillers offense were two short of matching a season high. Beaty and Garlick nearly accounted for half of them, finishing with four hits each. Gailen and Diaz both finished with three hits, as seven of the nine spots in the lineup hit safely.
The winner-take-all game Sunday night will begin at 6:05 p.m. at ONEOK Field. Dennis Santana (3-1, 5.51 ERA) will get the start on the mound for the Drillers, while the Naturals will counter with Corey Ray (6-12, 5.41 ERA). Three of Ray's wins on the year came against Tulsa. It will be Santana's first start against the Naturals.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.