Springdale, AR - The Tulsa Drillers came into Wednesday night's North Division Playoff opener against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals with a lot of momentum, having won five of their last seven games to clinch a playoff berth. But a strong start by Tulsa nemesis Foster Griffin along with a late, costly error put the Drillers on the wrong side of the scoreboard as they fell to the Naturals by a score of 3-1 in Game 1.
After winning the second half title in the Texas League's North Division over Labor Day Weekend, the Drillers entered the playoffs with an optimistic outlook as the club was performing well in all facets of the game. But facing the NW Arkansas ace southpaw in Griffin, the Drillers were stymied offensively for much of the night.
Griffin entered the game with a 4-0 record over five starts against the Drillers this season, and he picked up where he left off Wednesday night.
The Naturals lefthander did not allow a hit until Blake Gailen broke up the no-hit bid with a base hit to lead off the top of the fifth. But that seemed to break up Griffen's rhythm as he proceeded to walk Erick Mejia to put runners on first and second with no one out.
But following a mound visit from his pitching coach, Griffin was able to get Drew Jackson to pop up a bunt attempt that Naturals third baseman Jack Lopez purposely let fall to the ground. He then fired the ball to second for a force out before the relay throw nabbed Jackson at first for a momentum-killing double play. Griffin then struck out Johan Mieses on four pitches to end the Tulsa threat.
Although Griffen was dealing for the Naturals, Mitchell White was doing the same for the Drillers. Making just his seventh Double-A start, the Los Angeles Dodgers #6 overall prospect proved why he is highly regarded as he matched Griffen pitch-for-pitch over the first six innings. NW Arkansas was able to get runners into scoring position against White in each of the second through fifth innings, but White was able to work out of trouble each time to keep the game scoreless.
Having reached his pitch count following the completion of the sixth inning, White exited the game after scattering four hits over his six innings of work while only walking one batter. At that point, Layne Somsen entered the game for the Drillers to start the seventh.
Things would not go well for Somsen however, as he gave up a leadoff hit to Mauricio Ramos. After moving to second on a sacrifice bunt, Ramos then came in to score the game's first run on a base hit to right by Nick Dini that just eluded the glove of Tulsa first baseman Matt Beaty.
After Dini moved up to second on the throw home, a critical mistake happened that totally changed the outlook of the game. With one out, Humberto Arteaga lifted a routine fly ball to right field that bounced off the glove of Drillers right fielder Yusniel Diaz, putting Naturals baserunners on second and third with just one out.
That error would haunt the Drillers as both runs came in to score on a sac fly from Donald Dewees Jr. and an RBI double from Lopez to put NW Arkansas in front 3-0.
The Drillers did get on the board in the eighth as Jackson led off with a double before moving to third and then home on consecutive groundouts by Mieses and Garrett Kennedy. That made the score 3-1, but that would be as close as Tulsa would get as Tim Hill and Richard Lovelady would bend but not break in relief of Griffin to seal the game.
Hill earned his first win of the postseason with his 1.2 innings of relief efforts while Lovelady picked up his first save of the post-season. Somsen took the tough loss for Tulsa.
The Drillers will aim to bounce back in Springdale Thursday night. They will face RHP Josh Staumont who was 3-4 with a 4.44 ERA during the regular season and are scheduled to start RHP Scott Barlow who was a Texas League All-Star with a 6-3 record and a 2.10 ERA with Tulsa. First pitch from Arvest Ballpark is scheduled for 7:05 PM.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.