ROUND ROCK - Paying customers at Dell Diamond spent a good part of Monday night fanning themselves with game programs to create some sort of a breeze on an uncomfortably hot and muggy night.
Then in the sixth inning, something decidedly cool happened for 24-year-old Round Rock Express pitcher Jose Urquidy, who walked off the field to a robust round of cheers.
For Urquidy, who had reached his pitch limit and was being lifted for a reliever, it was a well-deserved ovation from the fans.
The Mexico native, from Mazatlan, had just dominated the Missions.
He allowed only three hits and struck out eight in 5 and 2/3 scoreless innings, leading the Express to a 6-0 victory in a Pacific Coast League showdown.
With the victory, the Express opened a two-game lead on the Missions in the American Southern Division with seven to play in the regular season.
The first game of a crucial four-game series in many ways changed after the first pitch, which was thrown right down the middle by Urquidy.
It was promptly smoked for a double by Missions leadoff man Troy Stokes, Jr.
After that, Urquidy settled down and struck out Corey Ray and Tyler Austin. Then he got Travis Shaw on a fly ball to center.
"That was really cool," Express center fielder Chas McCormick said. "Stokes rips one down the line, first pitch. Then Jose (bounces back). It seemed like Jose started throwing harder towards the end … honestly.
"But he's like that. First inning, he's kind of settling in. But then in the third, fourth and fifth, he finally gets the train going."
Urquidy has pitched brilliantly against the Missions in three games this year, striking out 29 batters in 17 and 2/3 innings, while allowing only one run.
Not surprisingly the Express has won all three games.
Game 2 of the four-game set between the Texas-based, PCL division rivals is set for Tuesday night, and for the Missions, it will be their biggest test of resolve this summer.
Why? Because they can't afford to let the Express get on a roll with so few games left.
Missions manager Rick Sweet said he thinks his players will bounce back.
"I would rather lose like that than 2-1, he said. "We let this game get away from us. We had one bad inning, which is what we've been doing to other people. We let it get away from us and before we knew it, they had five runs."
Leading 1-0, the Express broke it open in the fourth inning with a five-spot against Missions starter Shelby Miller.
Miller opened the inning in trouble as he walked Taylor Jones and then hit Nick Tanielu with a pitch.
After Lorenzo Quintana singled to load the bases, Alex De Goti hit a slow grounder to the right side.
Charging the ball, Missions first baseman Travis Shaw fielded it and whipped a throw home in an effort to get the first out of the inning.
But the throw was wide, and it sailed past catcher Jacob Nottingham, allowing both Jones and Tanielu to score. On a heads up play, Quintana raced all the way to third.
From there, the Express kept rolling, with Ronnie Dawson producing a sacrifice fly that scored Quintana, making it 4-0.
At that point, McCormick tripled to score De Goti, which forced the Missions to make a change.
After Miller exited and was replaced by Deolis Guerra, the misery continued. Drew Ferguson's ground ball hit the bag at third base and kicked up for an RBI single, which put the Express in front, 6-0.
As Ray dressed at his cubicle in the visitors' dressing room, he expressed confidence in his Missions teammates.
"We got a really good locker room," he said. "We've got a good clubhouse. I think whether we win or we lose, we come back the next day and we put our work in, to prepare to play the next game.
"We don't get too high, and we don't get too low. Whether we win eight in a row or we lose eight in a row, we're still doing whatever we need to do to win the next game."
With the victory, the Express improved to 8-5 on the season against the Missions.
Express manager Mickey Storey said he doesn't necessarily think it gives his team the mental edge moving into the remainder of the series.
"We've been up games on them, and they've come back," he said. 'I remember some haunting games early on in San Antonio, where we were giving it to them, and they scrapped together a game, and before you knew it, in the ninth inning, the game was tied.
"They're not somebody we think we're far better than. We know they're a really good team. (We're) what, two games up? They've got a good amount of wins. We expect this to be every bit of a good series, and we expect it to be every bit a good finish to the season."
American Southern Division - Round Rock 80-53, San Antonio 78-55, New Orleans 69-61, Oklahoma City 59-73.
American Northern Division - Iowa 71-62, Memphis 65-67, Nashville 61-70, Omaha 56-76.
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.
The second of four games in the series will have San Antonio's Thomas Jankins (10-4, 4.25) pitching Tuesday night against Round Rock's Kent Emanuel (7-2, 4.23).
Freitas nearing return
Injured all-star catcher David Freitas worked out Monday afternoon before Game 1 of the series against Round Rock, but he didn't play.
If all goes as planned, he could be activated on Tuesday. "We certainly could use his bat back in the lineup," manager Rick Sweet said.
Freitas, who has missed eight games with a rib injury, hasn't played since Aug. 18.
Earlier Monday, the California native made the All-PCL team, a postseason honor to go with his selection as a midseason all-star.
Freitas, acquired from the Brewers in a trade in April, is on pace to win the PCL batting title.
Officially, he's hitting .386, an average that includes his statistics from six games in April with the Tacoma Rainiers. In Missions-only statistics, he's hitting .393 in 82 games.
Both Freitas and Tyler Saladino (shoulder) are on the injured list. The prospects for Saladino's return this season are uncertain.
Gamel's arrival delayed
Outfielder Ben Gamel's flight into the Austin area was delayed, and so he was scratched from the Missions' lineup in the opener against the Express. Sweet said he plans to start Gamel on Tuesday.
Gamel has been sent down to Triple-A to play and get some at-bats. He's expected to return to Milwaukee.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.