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Playing defense at a high level

Round Rock claims 6-5 victory in series finale
May 6, 2019

On a rainy day that probably had some fans wondering whether they might see a sloppy defensive performance, both the Missions and the Round Rock Express made most of the routine plays -- and just about all of the tough chances, as well.In the end, Round Rock gloved a few

On a rainy day that probably had some fans wondering whether they might see a sloppy defensive performance, both the Missions and the Round Rock Express made most of the routine plays -- and just about all of the tough chances, as well.
In the end, Round Rock gloved a few more balls than the home team, broke open a tie game against the San Antonio bullpen and escaped with a 6-5 victory in front of 2,477 paying customers at Wolff Stadium.
As a result, the Express left town with a 2-2 split in the I-35 series and stayed in first place over the Missions and the New Orleans Baby Cakes in the Pacific Coast League's American Southern Division.
Missions manager Rick Sweet said he had no problem with playing much of the game in the light rain and on a wet grass surface.
"They would have done that in the (majors)," Sweet said. "You see them play games like that in the big leagues all the time. It changes the game a little bit. You just got to slow it down. But overall, I thought we did a good job with it, and so did they."
Despite the tough conditions, the Missions made only two errors -- one when third baseman Tyler Saladino misplayed a grounder shortly after the 11:05 a.m. start, and the other in the sixth inning, when shortstop Mauricio Dubón threw low to first base.
But neither miscue led to any real damage, with both base runners eventually being erased on nifty double plays engineered by Dubon and second baseman Keston Hiura.
As for the Express, they played error-free in all four games of the series.
Drew Ferguson highlighted the defensive effort in the finale with a leaping catch at the wall in the bottom of the sixth.
With the score tied 2-2, Missions slugger Tyrone Taylor pulled a ball that seemed destined to hit high off the wall in left field.
Ferguson had other ideas. He raced a long way, leaped high and - with glove extended -- came down with what may have been the catch of the series.
It was a key play, because it robbed Taylor of at least a one-out double, and it also came before the Express scored twice in the top of the seventh to take charge of the game.
The first run in the seventh came on a Ferguson's RBI double, a high chopper over third base. He later scored from third to make it 4-2.
"Drew has played well," Express manager Mickey Storey said. "He's a baseball player. He can do everything on the field. He's real consistent, and he has a good idea of offense, defense, base running - the whole deal.
"He's a good piece (on the roster) to get in the lineup as much as I can."
Ferguson, a 26-year-old Tennesseean, said he thinks Round Rock third baseman Nick Tanielu made some of the game's key plays.
"I remember Tanielu losing his footing on a throw on a double play, and he was able to make that throw to (second baseman Alex) De Goti, while he was losing his footing," he said. "So, that was pretty impressive."
In the ninth inning, Express shortstop Jack Mayfield made plays both offensively and defensively that kept the Missions from winning the series and taking over first place in the division.
In the top half, he belted a two-run homer, which boosted the Express into a 6-2 lead.
In the bottom half, the Missions cobbled together a series of extra-base hits and scored three runs to pull within one.  
But as the third run scored, Mayfield played a ground ball perfectly and threw to third, forcing a run-down and a put out that erased a potential tying run from scoring position.
With a runner at first base, Express reliever Reymin Guduyan coaxed Dubon into a ground ball to end the game.
The wet weather did nothing to dampen a power surge that has been seen throughout Triple-A this season. Nate Orf, Hiura and Taylor all hit homers for the Missions, while Mayfield and Yordan Alvarez did the honors for the Express.
Alvarez now has 13 on the season, while Hiura has 11, including three since Saturday.
For Brown, it was a tough day all the way around. Despite the weather, the former University of Kentucky standout pitched well enough to win, only to settle for a no-decision.
He said the wet ball was a challenge.
"The biggest thing for me was my hands getting wet … behind my back, usually," Brown said. "I just had to hold the ball close on the front side of me and keep it as dry as possible. Just tried to execute pitches."
In his last outing, he struggled with his location and allowed three earned runs in 4.2 innings. Brown was much more effective against Round Rock, giving up two runs on four hits in six innings.
"It was a good bounce back," he said. "I just need to find a way to execute curve balls a little better. Early in the count and late in the count. Fast ball command was a little bit better than last time. I just think the execution of pitches was overall, better."
PCL standings
American Southern Division - Round Rock 18-12, San Antonio 17-14, New Orleans 17-14, Oklahoma City 10-20
Coming up
The Missions host New Orleans, an affiliate of the Miami Marlins, in a four-game series starting Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. New Orleans won 4-0 Monday night at home to split four games against Oklahoma City.
Division title talk
Given that Round Rock, San Antonio and New Orleans are tightly bunched atop the division standings, role players could make a difference in who ultimately places first. Ferguson agrees, and he said he thinks Round Rock has the overall talent to win it.
"Every player that's going to be on the field can contribute (to a championship)," he said. "You know, I think that, top to bottom, we have the best team in Triple-A baseball - in all of minor league baseball. We don't have a single bad player on this entire roster.
"So, I think over time, I think you'll see us pull ahead, barring any changes to the roster. I think we're too strong in all three facets of the game to not win the division, in my opinion."
An alternate opinion
Missions pitcher Zack Brown shrugged off the comment, saying it's good for any team to have confidence in itself.
"He's confident in them, and we're confident in what we have here in this clubhouse," Brown said. "I think that's a good thing for any team. There's not too much else to say. We're about to see New Orleans, so we'll see how we match up with us, as well. It's baseball. You're going to go out and have fun and compete."