ROUND ROCK -- The Missions showed once again Tuesday night that they still have the fighting spirit of a championship contender.Then again, they also showed some deficiencies that could be their undoing in a battle with the Round Rock Express for a Pacific Coast League division title.First-place Round Rock closed
ROUND ROCK -- The Missions showed once again Tuesday night that they still have the fighting spirit of a championship contender.
Then again, they also showed some deficiencies that could be their undoing in a battle with the Round Rock Express for a Pacific Coast League division title.
First-place Round Rock closed in on the American Southern Division crown, holding off the Missions 4-3 at Dell Diamond.
Shut out on a one-hitter through eight innings by lefty Kent Emanuel, the Missions rallied furiously against the Round Rock bullpen for three runs on four hits in the ninth, putting the potential tying run at second base and a go-ahead run at first.
But Cy Sneed responded by striking out Nate Orf to end it.
"You have to give their guy credit," Missions manager Rick Sweet said. "He pitched a heck of a ball game. But, in turn, you got to … give us credit, too. Because, it would have been easy just to shut it down and go away, and we didn't."
With the victory, the Express (81-53) seized a three-game lead on the second-place Missions (78-56) with six to play for each team.
In choking off the Missions' rally in the ninth, the Express also achieved another significant milestone, improving to 9-5 against their Interstate 35 rivals in the 16-game season series.
Meaning, that, with two game remaining against the Missions on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the Express can finish no worse than 9-7 in the head-to-head meetings.
Which, in turn, means that the Express would get a ticket to the playoffs in the event of a tie between the two teams after 140 games.
For the Missions, it's a blow, because they can no longer control their own destiny.
For instance, even if the Missions go 6-0 in their last six games, including 4-0 at Nashville, they can't make the playoffs unless the Omaha Storm Chasers win at least twice at home in a closing four-game series against the Express.
"Well, right now, all I'm worried about is tomorrow," Sweet said. "But, yes, that's the way it goes. Right now? We got to play good tomorrow. We got to come out (strong), and that's what we'll focus on."
In both games the last few nights, the Missions have sputtered early and they've sputtered in the middle innings. On Monday night, they never got it going, losing 6-0.
Only a string of hits in the ninth inning of Game 2 against the Round Rock bullpen prevented what could have been their first back-to-back shutout losses in four years.
The Missions have also made mistakes defensively in both games - two errors in each one, including two by first baseman Tyler Austin Tuesday night.
In the Round Rock clubhouse, Express manager Mickey Storey described his feelings on the pennant race as "not comfortable," even though he has the momentum, a commanding lead and the tiebreaker.
"(I'm) confident in my team," he said. "The team's comfortable with their thoughts and beliefs in how good we are. Nothing's changed there. But there's a lot of games left, and that's a really good team across the hallway."
Storey expressed concern that the Express let slip away a chance to squash the Missions' hopes by allowing them to come back in the ninth.
"We take nothing for granted," he said. "Yes, there's some momentum (building), but I thought we gave some momentum back in that ninth, and they've always rallied.
"Another shutout would have been a lot more comforting (for us).
"Two nights in a row, really putting it to them, but I think they got some steam rolling in that ninth inning. I'm sure they're not lacking confidence."
American Southern Division - Round Rock 81-53, San Antonio 78-56, New Orleans 70-62, Oklahoma City 60-73.
American Northern Division - Iowa 71-63, Memphis 66-68, Nashville 61-71, Omaha 57-76.
Note: Teams play a 140-game schedule through Sept. 2. The winners of the American Southern and American Northern divisions will meet in the first round of the playoffs. Another series will match winners in the Pacific Southern against the Pacific Northern divisions. Winners of the two divisional series will advance to the PCL title series. Both are best of five.
San Antonio's Aaron Wilkerson (8-2, 3.34) will face Round Rock's Ryan Hartman (6-6, 5.33)
Freitas extends streaks
In his first game back after sitting out eight with a rib injury, David Freitas drove in a run with a ninth-inning single up the middle to extend his hitting streak to 14 games. He also extended his on-base streak to 29.
Freitas, who was in the lineup as a designated hitter, went 1-for-4.
"I felt good," Freitas said. "First couple of at bats, kind of getting into it. I fouled a lot of pitches off that I would like to square up. But, body-wise, I felt good."
Freitas said he was diagnosed a little more than a week ago with inflammation in his rib cage, but he said he doesn't know how it happened.
"About a week before I went on the IL, I kind of felt it, but it was more like, I would stretch it out a lot, and I'd be fine," he said. "Some days it would feel good and some days it would kind of be there, but I'd kind of get through it any way.
"And then that day in Iowa, I was in the cage and I couldn't fully swing. It was kind of taking my breath away. I couldn't get my bat to go all the way through the zone."
Named on Monday to the all-PCL postseason team, Freitas leads the PCL in batting average at .384 and is in position to win the batting crown.
"One day at a time, my man," he said.
Asked if it is on his mind, he responded by saying he is trying to aid in the team's playoff push.
"That's more on my mind more (than the batting title)," Freitas said.
Miller a free agent
A day after taking the loss in a start at Round Rock, Missions pitcher Shelby Miller on Tuesday exercised the release clause in his contract.
Miller, who played in high school at Brownwood, is now a free agent.
The loss of the veteran right-hander means that the Missions will be looking to reorganize the starting pitching rotation for the last six games.
After signing a minor league contract with the parent-club Milwaukee Brewers in July, Miller pitched five games for the Missions. He was 1-2 with a 4.79 earned run average.
Miller signed with the Brewers in hopes of earning a late-season promotion to the big leagues.
Strikeout records eclipsed
The Missions have established season franchise records for strikeouts - both in batting and in pitching. Missions batters struck out 1,202 times. The previous record was 1,189 in 1972. Missions pitchers have struck out 1,221 opposing hitters. The previous record was 1,189 in 2017.
Pulling for Dubon
Reacting to the news that Mauricio Dubón had been called up to the San Francisco Giants, Missions infielder Nate Orf said, "I'm pumped for him, man. I've got to watch him play the last few years … Got to see him grow a lot … and kind of turn into the type of player he is now, and show the potential for the future. He's put a lot of hard work in. "