In Game 2 of the Texas League Championship Series, the Tulsa Drillers and the Midland RockHounds combined for nine runs on 27 hits. Yet, for the second consecutive night, it was a glove that made the difference.
Errol Robinson's diving catch of Jermaine Curtis' line drive with two on and two out in the sixth saved a run and the Drillers defeated the 'Hounds by that margin, 5-4 to take a 2-0 lead in the league's title series. In Tuesday's series opener, Kyle Garlick's brilliant catch on a sure game-tying double off the bat of Viosergy Rosa was the game-changer.
Tulsa's signature in the playoffs has been big innings and key swings of the bat and the Drillers did exactly that on Wednesday night, scoring all five runs in the fourth inning with the last three runs produced on at-bats that started with 0-2 counts.
RockHounds starter Casey Meisner escaped jams in each of the first three innings, including back-to-back-to-back strikeouts after Drew Jackson had led off the second with a triple.
In the fourth, however, the Drillers cashed in. Erick Mejia's leadoff single was followed by Jackson's double into the right field corner, with Peter O'Brien's double to the left field bullpen fence driving in the game's first two runs. After O'Brien moved to third on a deep fly ball out, Carlos Navas relieved Meisner. He gave up an infield single to Robinson with O'Brien holding at third, then threw O'Brien out on a comebacker, leaving runners at first and second with two out.
Navas then got ahead of Matt Beaty, 0-2, but the Texas League Player of the Year and batting champion worked the count to 2-2 and delivered a two-run double to right-center. Garlick then pushed the lead to 5-0 with a double to left on an 0-2 count.
Tulsa starter Scott Barlow was outstanding, not allowing more than one base runner in any inning until the sixth. Jordan Tarsovich singled with one out and Max Schrock was hit by a pitch with two away. Curtis, who was also down in the count 0-2, then sent Barlow's 1-2 pitch to the left side with Robinson ranging to his left and making a full-out diving catch to end the inning.
Sheldon Neuse doubled with one out in the seventh and scored the RockHounds' first run on Tyler Ramirez's single to right.
The RockHounds cut the deficit to one run in the eighth, chasing Tulsa reliever Karch Kowalczyk after two batters - a walk to Jorge Mateo and a Schrock single. Layne Somsen entered the game and struck out Curtis on three pitches before surrendering an RBI single down the right field line by Rosa. Neuse followed with a triple, a two-run drive to straightaway center, before being caught in a rundown between third and home on J.P. Sportman's grounder to third. Sportman reached scoring position on the two-base fielder's choice, but was stranded when Somsen struck Sean Murphy out looking on a tremendous breaking ball.
Tarsovich led off the ninth with a bad-hop single to right, but Mateo bounced into a 6-3 double play and Daniel Corcino struck out Schrock to end the game, recording his second save in as many games of the title series.
The RockHounds stranded seven base runners but also grounded into four double plays, with three of them coming in the first four innings.
Sheldon Neuse and Max Schrock led the RockHounds with three hits each. Schrock was also hit by a pitch, reaching base in four of his five trips to the plate. Neuse had a double and a triple, with the two-run, line drive triple coming in the eighth inning.
Neuse, who was 4-for-20 in the division series against San Antonio, is 5-for-8 in the title series, with two runs, one double, one triple and two RBI. Schrock is 9-for-26 (.346) in the postseason and with four walks, a hit by pitch and a sac fly has a .438 on-base percentage.
Tyler Ramirez entered Wednesday's game 1-for-18 in the playoffs, but returned to his regular season form (.308 in 58 games) by going 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
Nolan Blackwood, who joined the club for the championship series when A.J. Puk and Aaron Kurcz were taken off the playoff roster, recorded his second consecutive scoreless inning in the ninth. Blackwood had 19 saves in 20 opportunities with Stockton.
Drew Jackson continues to have a remarkable series and postseason. The Tulsa second baseman went 2-for-5 with a double and a triple. He is 8-for-25 (.320) in the playoffs with two doubles, two triples, a grand slam in the division series against Northwest Arkansas and 10 RBI (second only to Viosergy Rosa's 13 in the 2017 Texas League Playoffs).
2017 Texas League Championship Series
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.
The RockHounds are bidding for a fourth consecutive Texas League 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 and the seventh time since 2005.
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.
Game 3 Starters
RockHounds: RHP Heath Fillmyer (11-5, 3.49 ERA in regular season, 0-0, 4.05 ERA in playoffs)
Fillmyer was Oakland's fifth round draft choice in 2014 out of Mercer Community College in West Windsor Township, New Jersey. He finished the regular season ranked fifth in the Texas League with a 3.49 ERA, tied for second with 11 wins and was one of just four pitchers with 11 or more wins. Fillmyers finished tied for fifth with 51 walks and shared the league lead with 29 game started. He went 6-1 with a 2.65 ERA in his last nine starts and started Game 4 of the South Division Series, and did not factor in the decision in the 6-3 win over San Antonio (6.2 IP, 9 H, 3 R/3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K). He made four starts against Tulsa during the regular season (1-1, 3.57 ERA). Fillmyer is rated Oakland's #15 prospect by Baseball America and currently #20 by MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.