During the 2017 regular season, the Tulsa Drillers had a losing home record against only one team in the Texas League. That team was Northwest Arkansas, and the Naturals continued their winning ways at ONEOK Field Friday night in Game 3 of the North Division Playoff Series. The Naturals scored three runs in each of the first two innings and defeated the Drillers 7-3.
The loss pushes Tulsa to within one game of elimination as Northwest Arkansas took a two games to one lead in the best-of-five series with the victory. The scenario means the Drillers will have to win the final two games of the series to advance to the Texas League Championship Series, while the Naturals need only one more win to claim the series.
The game could not have started much worse for the Drillers. The game's first hitter, Donnie Dewees, reached safely on shortstop Erick Mejia's error, and four of the next six Naturals delivered base hits off Tulsa starter Josh Sborz, giving Northwest Arkansas a quick 3-0 lead.
The Drillers, who led the Texas League in home runs during the regular season, used a pair of long balls to provide an immediate response in the bottom of the first. With two outs and the bases empty, Matt Beaty singled in front of a two-run blast from Kyle Garlick. Blake Gailen deposited the very next offering from Emilio Ogando into the right field bullpen to tie the game at 3-3.
The struggles for Sborz continued into the second inning. Humberto Arteaga and Dewees opened the second by reaching on back-to-back infield singles that could have possibly been turned into ground outs. After a sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position, Samir Duenez brought them both home with a base hit to left field.
Another hit by Ryan O'Hearn ended the night for Sborz and put runners at the corners. Tim Shibuya was summoned from the Tulsa bullpen and was greeted with a base hit from Mauricio Ramos that scored Duenez to up the Naturals lead to 6-3.
After the third straight three-run inning, the offensive production slowed down. Shibuya blanked the Naturals over the next five innings, while Ogando, Tim Hill and Richard Lovelady combined to blank the Drillers for the rest of the way.
The only other run of the game came from the Naturals in the top of the eighth, and it was unearned.
Shibuya was outstanding in giving the Drillers a chance to get back in the game. The right-hander surrendered just the unearned run on four hits in 6.1 innings, the longest outing for a Tulsa reliever this season.
The Drillers had no success against the two Northwest Arkansas relievers. Hill retired all eight batters he faced, three on strikeouts. Lovelady worked a 1-2-3 ninth as he and Hill combined to retire all 11 batters they faced.
Game four of the best-of-five series will be played Saturday night in what will be a must-win situation for Tulsa. Yadier Alvarez (2-2, 3.55 ERA) will pitch for the Drillers against Zach Lovvorn (4-9, 4.83 ERA) for the Naturals. Starting time at ONEOK Field is set for 7:05 p.m.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.