It all comes down to one game. After playing in 149 combined games in the regular season and playoffs, the Tulsa Drillers quest to win their first Texas League Championship since 1998 will come down to the final game of the season after a 6-3 loss at the hands of the Midland RockHounds Saturday night.
On the other end of the spectrum, the RockHounds will come into Sunday looking to win their, 4th straight Texas League Championship. Thanks to their pair of wins over the past two nights, the RockHounds are now 4-0 in elimination games this postseason.
It was a frustrating night for the Drillers.
Tulsa starting pitcher Yadier Alvarez was in trouble early as he loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the first on a hit batter, a single and a walk. But after a mound visit from his pitching coach, Bill Simas, Alvarez was able to wiggle out of the jam with a groundout.
He would not be as fortunate in the second inning however, as Midland drew first blood. A one-out single and a walk followed by a fielder's choice groundout put runners on the corners with two outs. The next pitch to Max Schrock got away from Tulsa catcher Garrett Kennedy, allowing Sean Murphy to dash home and put the RockHounds in front 1-0.
The Drillers looked as if they would answer in the home half of the second as they filled the bases with two outs on a single by Garlick and walks to Blake Gailen and newcomer DJ Peters. But Midland starter Grant Holmes escaped the jam by striking out Kennedy.
Following a quiet third inning, Tulsa tied the ballgame in the fourth thanks to Erick Mejia's speed and some help from Holmes.
After the first two batters in the inning were retired, Mejia lined a pitch back up the middle that deflected off Holmes and rolled away from the mound. Holmes chased after the ball but made an ill-advised throw to first that sailed wide of the bag, allowing Mejia to advance all the way to third. Two pitches later, Mejia used his speed to sprint home when Holmes uncorked a wild pitch, tying the ballgame at 1-1.
The RockHounds did not wait long to answer though as they retook the lead with four runs in the fifth.
Three straight, one-out singles by Midland in the top of the fifth plated a run and ended the night for Alvarez after he threw his 84th pitch of the game. Tim Shibuya was called into the game with runners on the corners and one out to face Midland's hottest hitter in Sheldon Neuse. But the former University of Oklahoma slugger, who entered the night batting .636 in the Championship Series, stayed locked in as he hit a three-run homer over the left field fence to put the RockHounds in front 5-1.
Shibuya settled down from there to fire two shutout innings, but Holmes was also dealing for Midland.
The Drillers finally got to Holmes in the bottom of the seventh. A leadoff single by Gailen and a walk to Mejia put the pressure on for Tulsa. After Drew Jackson struck out for the first out of the inning, Peters collected his first Double-A hit with an opposite field, line drive single to score Gailen. A fielder's choice groundout by fellow newcomer Keibert Ruiz scored Mejia and brought the Drillers to within 5-3.
But once again, the RockHounds had an immediate answer for the Tulsa scoring as they plated a run in their next turn at bat in the eighth.
After the first two Midland batters reached on a hit and a walk, Murphy bunted a ball that Shibuya quickly fielded and whipped to third to get the force out there. But when Mejia fired the ball across the diamond to try and turn the double play, the throw got past the outstretched arm of Jackson who was covering first on the play. A run came home for Midland while the ball was being chased down to put the visitors back in front 6-3.
That would be all for Shibuya as Shea Spitzbarth came into the game. Spitzbarth would be able to keep Tulsa close as he got out of the inning without further damage.
The Drillers got runners into scoring position in both the eighth and ninth innings, but would not be able to push any more runs across. The ninth was particularly painful as Jackson and Peters both reached to start the final frame on a walk and catcher's interference. But a line drive to shortstop from Ruiz turned into a rally-killing double play when Jackson was caught jumping too far off the bag at second. Errol Robinson then grounded out to send the series to a Game 5 on Sunday.
The Drillers will look to bounce back and secure their first Texas League Championship Sunday night in the series finale. RHP Dennis Santana (1-0, 0.00 ERA) in the postseason is scheduled to toe the rubber for Tulsa while RHP James Naile (0-2, 8.80 ERA) in the postseason will oppose him for Midland. The final game of the Championship Series is scheduled to begin at 6:05 PM.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.