- Having put together a comeback of monumental proportions, the Springfield Cardinals were an inning and a half away from a most improbable win.
Three Tulsa home runs later, the pending victory was a distant memory.
Back-to-back-to-back home runs by Tim Wheeler, Tommy Field and Ben Paulsen in the eighth erased Springfield's short-lived 11-9 lead, and propelled Tulsa to an unprecedented achievement.
Each of the top seven batters in the Drillers lineup homered, leading Tulsa to the 17-11 victory. The seven long balls given up by Cardinals' pitching set a new franchise record.
Losers of two in a row, Springfield turned to Michael Blazek (9-3, 5.26 ERA) to end the losing streak. Blazek came into the game with a lot of success at Hammons Field, sporting a 3.38 ERA in six home starts.
Another successful home start for Blazek looked murky after the first half inning of play. The right-hander struck out two in the inning, but a hit batsman gave Tulsa catcher Wilin Rosario a chance to put the Drillers on top. The Futures Game participant made the most of his opportunity, homering over the left field wall and giving Tulsa a 2-0 lead. The home run was Rosario's 16th of the year.
Inning number two wasn't much better. Brian Rike homered for the second time in as many days, and shortstop Tommy Field added an RBI single of his own to up the Driller lead to 4-0. The long ball was only Rike's fifth of the year, increasing his season home run total by 40 percent in two days.
Needing an innings-eating outing from Blazek in order to give the bullpen a rest, manager Pop Warner visited his pitcher after the Field single. Blazek promptly got on a roll, striking out five batters before trouble again found him in the fourth.
Houston and Field got things started for the Drillers, both collecting singles to put Blazek in danger. First baseman Ben Paulsen only exacerbated the problem for Springfield, driving in both base runners with a double to right field. Two batters later, Bronson Sardinha sent Blazek to the showers, homering over the outstretched glove of left fielder Daryl Jones and breaking open the Tulsa lead, 8-0.
Despite the early exit, Blazek (3.2 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 9 K's) did tie a Springfield season high with nine strikeouts.
Dan Houston (2-1, 2.36 ERA) made his second start of the season at Hammons Field. His previous appearance on June 25 was a good one, as the right-hander went six strong innings without surrendering a run, out dueling Springfield ace Shelby Miller in the process.
Houston was problem free until the Cardinal bats began striking back in the bottom of the fourth. A leadoff double by Ryan Jackson got things rolling. Alex Castellanos put Springfield on the board, driving home Jackson with a single to center. Back-to-back RBI doubles by Jones and second baseman Jermaine Curtis inched Springfield a little bit closer, trimming Tulsa's lead to 8-3 after four innings of play.
The Drillers picked up another run in the top of the fifth, but it was recent Springfield returnee Shane Robinson who provided the innings fireworks. The center fielder smashed a first-pitch fastball over the wall in left for his first home run as a Cardinal in 2011. Robinson drove in relief pitcher Nick Greenwood, who had reached on an error, with the blast, trimming the Tulsa lead to 9-5.
After cutting into an 8-0 deficit for three innings, the Cardinals blew the Drillers lead into the Midwestern night sky in the bottom of the seventh. Robinson and Jackson both reached to start the inning, giving RBI powerhouse Matt Adams a chance to add to his team leading total. Adams parlayed his chance into two runs across the plate by grounding to third baseman Erik Wetzel, then reaching base on his errant throw. The Tulsa lead was down to two, and the fireworks were about to start.
At the beginning of June, Alex Castellanos was among the league leaders in batting average and home runs. Since then, the Miami, Fla. native has cooled considerably, but that doesn't negate the threat he is at the plate. Castellanos showed off his raw power in the eighth, belting a pitch over the center field wall, and tying the game at 9-9.
Or so it seemed.
As Castellanos was beginning to round third base, the umpiring crew said the batted ball never cleared the fence. With the decision, Castellanos had to stop at third, his team still down one run. Zack Cox immediately changed that, driving in Castellanos with a groundout to first.
Still, the Cardinals weren't done. Catcher Audry Perez put Springfield on top for the first time in the series with a RBI double. After walks to relief pitcher Sam Freeman and Robinson, the Cardinals got one more run via the wild pitch, heading to the eighth inning with an 11-9 lead.
They wouldn't be exiting the inning with the lead intact. The inning started with Tulsa manufacturing runs using the walk, sacrifice fly and soft single. It ended with a showing of power rarely seen in baseball. Wheeler, Field and Paulsen consecutively homered, disposing of souvenir baseballs at an alarming rate. The back-to-back-to-back home runs put Tulsa back on top, 15-11.
Hector Gomez added a two-run shot in the ninth, capping the homer fest and giving the game its 17-11 final.
The blown save was Springfield's 21st of the year in 41 opportunities.
Springfield will continue their four-game series with the Drillers Wednesday night at 7:07pm. The Cardinals will send right hander and top prospect Shelby Miller to the mound against righty Cory Riordan for Tulsa.
Great tickets are still available by visiting the Hammons Field Ticket Office, online at springfieldcardinals.com or by calling (417) 863-2143.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.