The RockHounds - one of just two teams in the Texas League's 130-year history to win three (or more) outright championships - will bid to win their fourth straight title, an accomplishment unprecedented in modern league history. Fort Worth, which won six straight, did in from 1920-25.
Sheldon Neuse 's three-run home run proved to be the difference as the RockHounds snapped a 1-1 tie with a four-run fifth inning. Neuse, who is 8-for-14 in the championship series, ripped Tim Shibuya 's 0-1 pitch into the left field seats, capping the pivotal four-run fifth.
Each team scored an unearned run in the early going. Sean Murphy singled with one out in the second and scored the game's first run on a passed ball later in the inning. Tulsa tied the game when Erick Mejia 's sharp come-backer hit RockHounds starter Grant Holmes and caromed to the third base side of the mound. Holmes retrieved the ball but his throw to first went wide, allowing Mejia to go all the way around to third. From there, with two outs, he scored on a wild pitch and the inning ended on a pop-out on the next pitch.
While Saturday's game was not nearly as crisp as the first three games of the series, the crucial rally came in the span of four consecutive at-bats in the top of the fifth. Max Schrock narrowly beat out an infield single and Jermaine Curtis followed with a sharp single to left field. Viosergy Rosa then broke the tie with a single to center for his Texas League leading 15th RBI of the playoffs.
Shibuya, who came within one pitch of no-hitting the RockHounds on July 3 at Security Bank Ballpark, was called in to relieve starter Yadier Alvarez and face Neuse. The RockHounds third baseman ripped Shibuya's 0-1 pitch out to left, his first home run at the Double-A level.
The Drillers cut into the lead in the seventh with a leadoff single from Blake Gailen and a walk to Mejia opening the inning. DJ Peters ' single to right-center drove in one run and pinch-hitter Keibert Ruiz drove in the second on a fielder's choice as part of a failed double play attempt, to make the score 5-3.
The 'Hounds added an insurance run in the eighth. After J.P. Sportman singled and Tyler Ramirez walked, Shibuya fielded Murphy's sac bunt attempt and threw to third to force Sportman. In attempting a double play, the ensuing throw to first base pulled Drew Jackson - Tulsa's second baseman, covering the bag - into the base path just enough to make contact with Murphy. Jackson's glove and wrist appeared to bend back, with the ball coming loose and Jackson dropping to the dirt in obvious pain. Ramirez, who went to second on the bunt, came all the way around to score.
Tulsa had two on with two out in the eighth before Kyle Finnegan came in, striking Mejia out looking to end the inning.
The Drillers threatened again in the ninth with a leadoff walk to Jackson and Peters reaching on catcher's interference. With two on and no outs, Ruiz sent a line drive to short which Jorge Mateo turned into an unassisted double play. Finnegan then got Errol Robinson to ground out to Schrock at second for his second save in as many nights and setting the stage for the Texas League's winner-take-all finale Sunday.
Grant Holmes, who came to Oakland from the Dodgers via trade in July 2016 (and otherwise would have been pitching for Tulsa) pitched into the seventh inning, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits and three walks while striking out six. In addition to having success against his former organization, Holmes got a little revenge against ONEOK Field. In his July 8 start at Tulsa, he gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw and surrendered eight runs in five innings.
In the first four games of the TLCS, the RockHounds bullpen has allowed two earned run in 15.1 innings, a 1.17 ERA. The relief corps has not allowed a run in three of the four games, giving up 11 hits and four walks while striking out 10.
Tulsa's Blake Gailen is hitting .419 in the postseason (13-for-31) with seven runs and seven RBI. The Drillers center fielder has also drawn eight walks for a .538 on-base percentage, best in the Texas League playoffs.
Defense (in several cases thanks, at least in part, to perfect defensive positioning) came up big on multiple occasions. Max Schrock made a spectacular leaping catch on a line drive up the middle in the first. Viosergy Rosa took a hit away on another line shot, this one to first base to end the fifth, and Mateo (in addition to his key double play in the ninth) made a terrific play in the hole at short on a ball that got under Sheldon Neuse's glove making the back-handed stop and the strong throw to first. Except for the ninth-inning double play, each of the three defense gems came at the expense of Errol Robinson.
2017 Texas League Championship Series
The RockHounds are bidding for a fourth consecutive TL championship, unprecedented in the modern era, while Tulsa looks to snap the longest current drought in the league, having last won the title in 1998.
The RockHounds are in the championship series for the sixth time in nine seasons, the seventh time since 2005 and the ninth time in franchise history (Cubs, 1975 & Angels, 1995).
The 'Hounds and Tulsa are meeting for the championship for the second time and the second time in four seasons. The RockHounds defeated the Drillers, 3-2 in 2014 for the first of the current run of three consecutive titles for the 'Hounds.
This is the third time the franchises have played for the Texas League championship. The Lafayette Drillers and the Midland Cubs shared the 1975 title when the fifth and deciding game could not be played due to rain. The Lafayette franchise moved to Tulsa in 1977.
In the franchise's nine trips to the Texas League Championship Series, 2017 marks just the third in which the series has gone to a "winner take all"] final game and all three are versus the Drillers - - 1975 (which was washed away), 2014 and Sunday's finale at ONEOK Field.
Game 5 Starting Pitchers
Drillers RHP Dennis Santana (3-1, 5.51 regular season / 1-0, 0.00 postseason)
RockHounds RHP James Naile (2-3, 3.21 regular season / 0-2, 8.80 postseason)
Santana was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an international free agent as a shortstop in March 2013 and made the transition to the mound the following season. He was selected to the Midseason All-Star teams in both the Midwest League (Class-A, Great Lakes) in 2016 and California League (Class-A Advanced, Rancho Cucamonga) in 2017. Promoted to the Drillers from Rancho Cucamonga on July 24, he made seven regular season starts and was the winning pitcher in decisive Game 5 of the North Division Series as the Drillers defeated Northwest Arkansas, 6-1. Santana went 7.1 shutout innings, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out 11. The 21-year-old native of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic is rated the Dodgers' # 12 prospect by MLB.com.
Naile was selected by the Oakland A's in the 20th round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Alabama, Birmingham. The 24-year-old makes his home in Charleston, Missouri. He opened the season with the RockHounds on May 14 and was off to an outstanding start before being sidelined with an abdominal strain. He returned to the mound on July 20 and made two appearances each with the Rookie League Arizona A's and the Class-A Advanced Stockton Ports.
He rejoined the 'Hounds on August 8, taking the loss in a relief appearance at Northwest Arkansas (3.1 IP, 6 H, 7 R / 6 ER, 2 BB, K 3), but returned to form over his last four regular season starts. He makes his third postseason start in 2017 (see stats, below) and his second in the championship series. He took the loss in Game 2 of the South Division Series and in Game 1 of the Texas League Championship Series.
Naile's postseason history with the RockHounds includes the win in the deciding Game 4 of the 2016 Texas League Championship Series, a 4-1 win over Northwest Arkansas, in which he went six scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out four as the RockHounds won the league title.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.