The Tulsa Drillers moved a step closer to a first-half title Thursday night in the opening game of a critical road trip. The Drillers rode an exceptional outing from starting pitcher Dan Houston to record a 5-1 victory over the Arkansas Travelers in North Little Rock's Dickey-Stephens Park.
The result, combined with Northwest Arkansas' win over Springfield, keeps Tulsa's first-place lead at three games over the Naturals. The win was the fifth straight for the Drillers and reduced their magic number for winning the North Division title to three against the Naturals and down to two against the Cardinals.
Houston was outstanding against the Travs, allowing seven hits and one run in eight innings of work. The right-hander did not walk a batter and struck out six while improving his record to 7-5.
Offensively, the Drillers were held to only seven hits in the game, but they still were able to generate five runs.
After not having a base runner in the first three innings against Travs' emergency starter Mike Piazza, Tulsa's Josh Rutledge opened the fourth with a leadoff single. After Angelys Nina drew a walk, Nolan Arenado advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt. Rutledge came home with the game's first run on a ground out from Ben Paulsen.
The Drillers upped their lead to two runs in the top of the sixth when Rutledge doubled and scored on a hit from Arenado.
Top prospect Jean Segura accounted for the Travelers lone run with his fifth homer of the season in the bottom of the sixth that cut. It cut the Tulsa lead to 2-1, but the two-run lead was quickly restored in the seventh inning. Kiel Roling doubled, moved to third on a hit by Tim Torres and scored on another hit by Lars Davis.
Ben Paulsen padded the Drillers lead in the eighth with a one-out, two-run homer that gave Tulsa a 5-1 cushion. The blast was estimated to have traveled 400 feet. For Paulsen, who was named to the Texas League All-Star Team earlier in the day, it was his sixth home run of the year.
Houston departed after throwing 94 pitches, 70 for strikes, in his eight innings. Will Harris allowed two hits but worked a scoreless ninth to complete the victory.
The Drillers now have five games remaining in the first half. The schedule includes three more games against the Travelers in North Little Rock before they conclude the half with two games at Northwest Arkansas.
In the second game in Arkansas Friday night, the pitching matchup will feature Parker Frazier (2-7, 4.19 ERA) for the Drillers and Matt Oye (1-3, 5.67 ERA) for the Travelers. Starting time is scheduled for 7:08PM.
NOTES: Eight Tulsa players were named to the North Division All-Star Team that will play in the Texas League's marquee game on June 28 at ONEOK Field. In addition to Paulsen, Rutledge, Arenado and Davis were also chosen. Houston led a group of four Tulsa pitchers that also included Edwar Cabrera, Nick Schmidt and Coty Woods. . .After hitting safely in each of his first three games with the Drillers, Corey Dickerson was held hitless in four at-bats by the Travs.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.