In any sport, a playoff game amplifies every key moment. There were four such "chapters" in Tuesday's opener of the 2017 Texas League Championship Series, with the Tulsa Drillers defeating the Midland RockHounds, 5-3 at Security Bank Ballpark.
RockHounds 1st Inning
The 'Hounds took a 1-0 lead in the home half of the first, but they also missed the opportunity to do more damage. Jorge Mateo led off with a walk and stole second before moving to third on Max Schrock 's productive out, a ground ball to the right side. Jermaine Curtis ripped an RBI single up the middle to score Mateo, with a walk to Viosergy Rosa and an 0-2 single from Sheldon Neuse loading the bases, still with just one out. Tulsa starter Mitchell White then got J.P. Sportman on a soft liner to second and struck Tyler Ramirez out to end the inning with the score just 1-0.
Drillers 2nd Inning
After doing exceptional damage control in the first, the Drillers took the lead in the second. Blake Gailen walked and Erick Mejia 's sharp bouncer up the middle put two men on with no outs. Mateo made the play behind second but couldn't get to the bag or throw to first in time to get either runner. Drew Jackson then sent James Naile 's next pitch into the gap in right-center for a two-run triple and a lead the Drillers would not relinquish. After Naile struck out the next two batters, Errol Robinson singled, scoring Jackson, and Yusniel Diaz sent a triple into the gap in right-center, building the lead to 4-1.
RockHounds 7th Inning
Sportman's two-run home run in the third inning, a laser that cleared the left field bullpen, cut the lead to 4-3 and the Drillers answered with a single run in the sixth. In the home half of the seventh, a walk to former Driller Jordan Tarsovich and an infield single from Schrock put the tying runs on base. With two out, Rosa sent a line drive deep into the left-center field power alley. Tulsa left fielder Kyle Garlick made a brilliant catch, tracking down the potential game-tying drive in full stride at the edge of the warning track.
RockHounds 9th Inning
With a one-out walk to Mateo and Curtis being hit by a pitch with two outs, the 'Hounds again had the tying runs on base and with the batter they would want in Rosa at the plate. However, Drillers reliever Daniel Corcino had other ideas and struck Rosa out to end the game.
The RockHounds stranded 10 base runners in the two-run defeat.
J.P. Sportman narrowly missed a second home run when his eighth-inning drive, also to left, glanced off the wall in fair territory, giving him a one-out ground rule double. Relievers Corey Copping and Corcino then got Tyler Ramirez and Sean Murphy on back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning.
Drew Jackson drove in three runs Tuesday and now has 10 RBI for the postseason. He broke a 7-7 tie in Game 2 of the North Division series against Northwest Arkansas with a grand slam.
Catcher Sean Murphy was involved in a pair of double plays Tuesday. In the fourth, after Ramirez's throw home from left field was in time to get Jackson at the plate, Murphy threw down to second to double up Garrett Kennedy , who had singled. In the seventh, Murphy doubled base runner Errol Robinson off first base following a swinging third strike to Yusniel Diaz.
Pitchers A.J. Puk and Aaron Kurcz have been taken off the roster for the series and have been replaced by RHP Nolan Blackwood (who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth Tuesday) and outfielder Skye Bolt . Puk, rated Oakland's #2 prospect, experienced some discomfort in his last start in Game 1 of the South Division Series. Kurcz, who has been outstanding out of the bullpen, had been sidelined with a blister and has not pitched since August 18.
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 'Hounds defeated the Drillers, 3-2 in 2014 for the first of the current run of three consecutive titles.
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 and the seventh time since 2005.
This is the third time the franchises have played for the TL 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 2 Starters
Drillers RHP Scott Barlow (6-3, 2.10 ERA)
RockHounds RHP Grant Holmes (11-12, 4.49 ERA)
Barlow was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers sixth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita, California. He had committed to play baseball at Fresno State University before signing with the Dodgers. The seventh-year pro (he missed all of 2012) spent all of 2016 with Tulsa (4-7, 3.98 ERA) and has split this season the Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City (see stats, below). He made one start against the RockHounds this season on Opening Night on April 6, a 4-1 loss at Security Bank Ballpark (2.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R/3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K). The month of April was the only one in which his ERA with the Drillers went above 2.27. His seven starts with the Pacific Coast League Oklahome City Dodgers came between June 26 and July 30, as he rejoined the Drillers on August 4.
Holmes opened the season with ERA's of 6.27 in April and 5.52 in May, finishing the first half 5-6, 5.45 ERA. While he shared the league lead in with 12 losses and 61 walks, he won the Texas League strikeout title with 150 and led all starters in the league with a 9.02 K/9 IP ratio. Acquired by Oakland from the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year's Josh Reddick trade, the Conway, South Carolina native is rated the A's #6 prospect by Baseball America and #3 by MLB.com. He was originally selected by the Dodgers with the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 draft out of Conway (SC) High School. In three appearances versus Tulsa, much of what he allowed came in the July 8 start at ONEOK Field in Tulsa: 5 IP, 8 H, 8 R/8 ER. In his other two starts against the Drillers, Holmes posted a 2.53 ERA.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.