ROUND ROCK - After the Round Rock Express won the first two games of a Pacific Coast League series against the Missions, it became clear that they had a chance to win the next two for a 4-0 sweep that would clinch the American Southern Division title.The Missions stamped out
ROUND ROCK - After the Round Rock Express won the first two games of a Pacific Coast League series against the Missions, it became clear that they had a chance to win the next two for a 4-0 sweep that would clinch the American Southern Division title.
The Missions stamped out that possibility Wednesday night in a slug-fest, keeping alive their own American Southern championship hopes with a 14-8 victory over the error-prone Express at Dell Diamond.
Trailing by eight runs, the Express roared from behind in the bottom of the seventh with six runs on five hits to pull within two.
Round Rock's Kyle Tucker and Nick Tanielu belted two-run homers in the uprising. But in retaliation, the Missions answered with four two-out runs in the top of the eighth to account for the final score.
Tyler Austin's fourth RBI of the game, on a single up the middle, sparked the uprising. Travis Shaw's two-run homer completed the scoring.
As a result, the Missions (79-56) pulled to within two games of the Express (81-54) with five to play.
They also put themselves in position to forge a split in the series with the division leaders and then try to pull off something unlikely over the last four days of the regular season.
"It is what it is," Missions manager Rick Sweet said of the pennant race. "You know, we had to play well today, and we did. The defense (was good). I really thought our guys did a nice job."
Express manager Mickey Storey, whose team hit three home runs but also committed three errors, bemoaned a lost opportunity to put the Missions on the brink of elimination.
"I mean (we were) just sloppy early," he said. "But, we responded and brought it to within two runs in the seventh, so, it just says a lot about our team. It says a lot about the way we play. A couple of swings of the bat, a couple of plays here and there, and we're back in it.
"Right after we responded in a positive way, we responded in a negative way. But that's the kind of game you get when you have two good ball clubs."
The Missions produced their best offensive showing since they scored 15 runs on Oklahoma City five nights ago in San Antonio. They stroked 12 hits, highlighted by home runs from Austin, Ben Gamel and Shaw.
Gamel, optioned from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Missions earlier in the week, scored a career-high five runs. Batting leadoff, he also had three hits and two RBI.
Austin, who made two errors in a 4-3 loss to the Express on Tuesday night, hit a two-run homer to in the first inning.
"It was a good game for us," Sweet said. "I thought, offensively, the big at bats were from Austin. You know, the two-run home run and then a big (eighth inning) single.
"I mean, two outs, two guys on. They just threw up a six spot. When he drove in that run, it takes the wind out of (their) sails."
After Round Rock had pulled to within 10-8, Austin's RBI single gave the Missions a three-run lead.
The lead ballooned to four when Round Rock reliever Dean Deetz threw a wild pitch, allowing a run to score from third. Shaw followed with a two-run blast over the center field wall to make it 14-8.
During Shaw's at bat, he fouled a ball off the inside of his knee, and it appeared to put him in some discomfort, because Sweet and the trainer came out of the dugout to check on him.
But he stayed in the game, and on the next pitch, he launched it over the center field wall.
Later, Shaw was replaced in the field later by Lucas Erceg, but Sweet claimed he is OK physically.
The race in the American Southern is destined to be decided between Friday and Monday, with both contenders on the road for four games.
The Express play at Omaha and the Missions play at Nashville.
In the event of a tie in the standings on the last day, the Express would claim the title based on their edge in the season series, so the Missions actually will need to make up three games in the next five days.
Whatever happens Thursday night, Round Rock will still have the inside track to the title.
A Round Rock win in the series finale would mean that the Express could secure the title with one victory in Omaha, or with one Missions loss in Nashville.
However, if the Missions win, it becomes more interesting. If that happens, the Missions could come back to claim the title if it can win twice more than the Express within their respective four-game road series.
Meaning that, if the Missions win out, their only route to the playoffs is if the Express fares no better than 2-2 at Omaha.
The Storm Chasers are in last place in the American Northern Division, 20 games below .500.
American Southern Division - Round Rock 81-54, San Antonio 79-56, New Orleans 70-63, Oklahoma City 60-74.
American Northern Division - Iowa 72-63, Memphis 67-68, Nashville 62-71, Omaha 57-77.
Note: Teams play a 140-game schedule, with the last day of the season on Monday. 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.
Right-hander Trey Supak (1-1, 9.35 ERA) will start for the Missions in Thursday's series finale. He will oppose Round Rock righty Brandon Bielak (7-4, 4.74).
Supak on Wednesday was named the Double-A Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher. Supak (11-4, 2.20) pitched in the league for the Brewers' affiliate in Biloxi, Miss.
At the Triple-A level, the former La Grange High School standout has been effective for the Missions in two starts at home (0-0, 2.53).
But he has had some trouble in four starts on the road (1-1, 13.78), especially in starts at the hitters' havens of Albuquerque and El Paso.
Burnes, in the house
Missions manager Rick Sweet said Wednesday that veteran right-hander Corbin Burnes has joined the team in Round Rock and will be activated to pitch as an opener in the Nashville series.
Having fun with the race
Round Rock pitcher Kent Emanuel said the idea of trying to win a PCL championship is not on players' minds through most of the season.
But he said Tuesday night after throwing eight shutout innings in a 4-3 victory against the Missions that his teammates have started to see it a little differently lately.
"Now that we're at the end … it's kind of one of those situations like 'We're here. Let's have some fun and let's win.' It's kind of shifted into that mode," Emanuel said.
"But if I'm being completely candid … throughout the beginning of the year, most of the year, that's not really on people's minds."
Roster expansion on horizon
Major league teams can expand their rosters starting on Sunday. Which means, some of the Missions might be getting word of their promotions within the next few days, with players that are called up actually leaving the Triple-A squad on Saturday.
Players on the Brewers' 40-man roster are the most likely candidates to be promoted because the major league club doesn't have to clear a roster spot to bring them up.
But the Brewers also will need to determine whether two players on the injured list (Jimmy Nelson and Brent Suter) are ready. Suter, a lefty, may be a top candidate because of his work recently, throwing 11 and 2/3 innings without an earned run.
The Missions have 12 players on the Brewers' 40-man roster.