Video: RockHounds clinch Texas League title
The win had all the drama befitting a winner-take-all game. The first batter up scored what would be the game's only run, despite a total of 26 batters reaching base by almost every method except VISA and Mastercard (14 hits, six walks, three errors, two hit batsmen and one strikeout / wild pitch).
Jorge Mateo led off the game with a chopper to the left side of the infield. Tulsa third baseman Erick Mejia charged the ball to make the play, but his throw to first went wide, allowing Mateo to reach second. The play could easily have been scored a hit and an error, as Mateo's speed clearly caused the throw to be hurried and the play was close at first.
Mateo moved to third on a ground out and scored on Viosergy Rosa 's RBI single to right-center, his 16th RBI of the postseason.
Video: RockHounds' Rosa drives in a run
The remainder of the game saw both clubs threaten multiple times but fail to score. The RockHounds stranded 13 base runners and grounded into one double play and Tulsa, while stranding just seven, grounded into a pair of double plays and had two men caught stealing.
James Naile went six innings for the win, his second championship-clinching victory in as many seasons and was backed by another clutch performance from the bullpen. Tyler Sturdevant , Joel Seddon , Brandon Mann and Kyle Finnegan combined for three near-perfect innings with Finnegan earning his third save in as many games.
Naile found himself in serious jams three times in the first four innings, but did not yield a run. Tulsa had three base runners in the last of the first - a hit by pitch, Matt Beaty 's bunt single against the shift and a walk - but Sean Murphy threw out Errol Robinson trying to steal second and Sheldon Neuse made the first of his three outstanding plays at third base, retiring Blake Gailen to end the inning. Tulsa had two more men on in the second, but the first of two RockHounds double plays and Murphy's second denial of a stolen base attempt ended the inning.
Tulsa opened the fourth with back-to-back singles from Beaty and Kyle Garlick to pose perhaps the most serious threat of the game, but Gailen bounced into a second 4-6-3 double play and Naile struck Mejia out to end the inning.
Although he walked the high wire over most of the first four innings, Naile finished strong. Beginning with the fourth inning double play, he retired eight of the last 10 batters he faced, striking out six. Including the three scoreless innings from the bullpen, Tulsa had only four base runners over the last five innings (after the back-to-back leadoff singles in the fourth).
Naile allowed a single to Beaty with one out in the sixth, but struck out the other three batters. After Sturdevant's 1-2-3 seventh, Seddon walked DJ Peters to open the eighth and Robinson's sac bunt put the game-tying run in scoring position. Neuse then saved the one-run lead, making a tremendous play on a high bouncer to the left side off the bat of Yusniel Diaz . Leaving his feet to make the play, Neuse denied what almost certainly would have been the game-tying single. Mann then entered and struck out Beaty, the Texas League's batting champion and Player of the Year, on three pitches to end the inning.
Finnegan came on in the ninth and brought the 'Hounds to the brink of the title, getting Garlick to fly out to left and Gailen on a pop out to Neuse at third. He then appeared to strike out Mejia, but the third strike came on a pitch in the dirt and Mejia reached on a two-out strikeout and a wild pitch. Keibert Ruiz grounded Finnegan's next pitch to second with Schrock's throw to Rosa ending the game and sealing the RockHounds place in Texas League history.
The 2017 season marks the 130th year in which the Texas League has existed. In that time …
Four teams have won three (or more) consecutive championships
Two of those clubs, Houston (1912-14) and Waco (1914-1916), shared a title (1914)
Two of the cubs, the Fort Worth Panthers (1920-25) and the Midland RockHounds (2014-17) won four or more consecutive titles
It is a discussion for another day as to which is the more remarkable accomplishment, because they came in entirely different eras of minor league baseball. Fort Worth's six titles came with a (largely) similar roster, while the modern-day game sees the "cast of characters" change, not only year-to-year, but with significant player movement within each season. Suffice to say, no other clubs have won more than two consecutive outright titles, giving the Fort Worth Panthers and the Midland RockHounds a place in Texas League history otherwise unequaled.
The Midland RockHounds entered the 2017 championship series as three-time defending champions. The last - and only other - time that happened was in 1923, '24 and '25 (Fort Worth), more than 90 years ago.
The RockHounds went 5-0 in elimination games in the playoffs, (2-0 vs. San Antonio and 3-0 vs. Tulsa).
Including the final game of the regular season (which, with Corpus Christi winning, became a must-win to reach the postseason), the 'Hounds were 6-0 when facing elimination.
In the first of the five playoff elimination game wins, the RockHounds trailed San Antonio (the club with the league's best regular season record), 3-1, going into the last of the eighth in Game 4 of the South Division Series on Septenbeg 9 at Security Bank Ballpark. The 'Hounds scored five times in the eighth to defeat the Missions, 5-3, to force Game 5.
RockHounds Arithmetic: The 1-2-3-4 Theory
Kyle Finnegan came up with a terrific bit of math (J.P. Sportman relayed it to us). It goes like this:
The RockHounds needed ONE win at Frisco (on last day of the season) to reach the playoffs
They needed TWO wins (back-to-back) to defeat San Antonio and reach the title series
They needed THREE wins (back-to-back-to-back) at Tulsa to win …
Texas League Championship Number FOUR
Each of those 1-2-3 "steps", of course, was taken with NO margin for error, each being an elimination game
The start of Sunday's game was delayed by one hour, 13 minutes, due to rain, the second consecutive season in which the decisive game of the league's title series was delayed by weather. Which leads us to …
September 16, 2016: the RockHounds and Northwest Arkansas Naturals wait out a three-hour rain delay before Game 4 of the Texas League Championship. James Naile takes the mound for the 'Hounds and, in his fourth Double-A appearance, tosses six shutout innings as the RockHounds win their third consecutive Texas League title.
One year and one day later (September 17, 2017), the RockHounds and Tulsa sit out a one-hour, 13-minute rain delay before the decisive fifth game of the Texas League Championship Series. Naile takes the mound and throws six shutout innings, this time in a 1-0 win in Game 5, as the 'Hounds make more Texas League history with their fourth consecutive title.
In those two championship-clinching games, Naile went 2-0, pitching 12 scoreless innings, allowing seven hits and four walks while striking out 10 batters. Those performances earn Naile a special place in franchise - and league - history.
Sheldon Neuse led the RockHounds, hitting .500 (9-for-18) in the title series with two doubles, one triple, a three-run home run (the key swing in the Game 4 win) and a total of five RBI.
Max Schrock capped a tremendous season, one in which he finished fourth in the league, hitting .321, going 9-for-23 (.391) with three runs, a double and an RBI.
Viosergy Rosa's RBI - the game's only run - was his 16th of the postseason, six more than Tulsa's Drew Jackson (10) and nine more than any other hitter in the 2017 playoffs. Postseason stats do not count among official season totals, but Rosa finished with 126 RBI overall, including 110 in the regular season (eighth all-time in single-season franchise history).
Entering the championship series, the Drillers were 20-2 at home under manager Scott Hennessey, who took over in late July. The RockHounds won the title with three consecutive wins at ONEOK Field.
The Drillers, who led the Texas League in slugging percentage (.433) by 34 points over the RockHounds and Springfield, hit a franchise record 167 home runs in the regular season and added eight more in the divisional playoff against Northwest Arkansas.
RockHounds pitchers did not surrender a home run in the five-game title series.
The RockHounds had a total of six shutouts in the regular season. They threw two in three games at Tulsa in the TLCS.
The RockHounds bullpen was tremendous in the championship series, allowing two earned runs over 18.1 innings for a 1.17 ERA.
The relief corps did not allow a run in three of the four games, and gave up just 11 hits and five walks (a 0.87 WHIP) while striking out 13.
Kyle Finnegan recorded a save in each of the three wins in the title series (he had four overall in the playoffs) and tossed 3.1 near-perfect innings in the process (3.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K).
The 'Hounds are the first minor league club - at any level - to win four consecutive titles since the Harrisburg Senators (then the Double-A affiliate of the Montreal Expos) won four straight in the Eastern League from 1996-99.
Superstition is as much a part of baseball as the 6-4-3 double play. Pitcher Joseph Camacho was added to the roster, taking B.J. Boyd 's place, at the start of the playoffs. While he did not take the mound (this time around, anyway), it should be pointed out that the El Paso, Texas native took the lineup card out to the plate for Game 3 on Friday night at Tulsa. The RockHounds won, forcing Game 4. He again brought the card to home plate on Saturday. The RockHounds won, forcing Game 5. So, of course, Camacho presented the card to the umpires at the dish on Sunday. The result? The RockHounds win the championship. That's 3-for-3. Superstition is alive and well in the national pastime and Joseph Camacho has a really cool place in franchise history.
Texas League Championship Series
The franchise is now 6-3-1 in the Texas League Championship Series, with the RockHounds winning all six outright titles (6-1): 2005, 2009, 2014-17
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.