The 2018 Texas League North Division Playoff Series got off to a heartbreaking start Wednesday night for the Tulsa Drillers at North Little Rock's Dickey-Stephens Park. Tulsa held a one-run lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning, but Arkansas rallied with the help of a leadoff, bad-hop base hit. The hit helped set the stage for a two-out, two-run single from Joseph Odom that gave the Travelers the walk-off 5-4 victory and the first game in the best-of-five series.
Leading 4-3, the Drillers were three outs away from taking the game one victory when former Tulsa outfielder Joey Curletta led of the ninth with a sharp grounder. Third baseman Zach McKinstry moved to his left to field the grounder when it took a high hop over his head and rolled into left field. Instead of an important first out, it turned into a leadoff single.
After Curletta reached, Drillers closer Layne Somsen struck out Dario Pizzano before Kyle Lewis singled to put runners at the corners. Somsen took a big step toward escaping the trouble when he retired Yonathan Mendoza on a strikeout, but Odom delivered the big hit when he smashed a grounder that deflected off McKinstry and into left field. The base hit scored both Curletta and Lewis to give Arkansas the game one win.
The heroics took the spotlight away from Keibert Ruiz. Ruiz looked to be the game's hero when his two-run homer in the top of the eighth gave the Drillers their first lead of the night at 4-3. It was one of three hits in the game for the Tulsa catcher.
The Travelers led for most of the night after Eric Filia got them off to a quick start in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs and the bases empty, the Arkansas right fielder deposited an offering from Tulsa starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin over the right field wall for a solo homer that gave the Travs the 1-0 lead.
The Drillers answered in the top of the second. Jacob Scavuzzo led off with a base hit, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Scavuzzo came home with the tying run on a groundout by Cael Brockmeyer.
Both teams suffered misfortune later in the second inning on the same play. After Brockmeyer's RBI ground out, McKinstry hit a sharp liner back up the middle that struck Arkansas starting pitcher Williams Perez. The ball deflected in the air to shortstop Mendoza who caught the deflection to take a hit away from McKinstry. It was even a worse break for the Travs as Perez was unable to continue, forcing an early call to the bullpen.
The Travelers used another long ball to go back in front in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs and Curletta at first, Lewis hit a drive down the right field line that just cleared the four-foot high fence just inside the foul pole to put Arkansas in front 3-1.
The Drillers got one of the runs back in the fifth inning. Reliever Matt Walker issued consecutive walks to open the inning, but he recovered to strike out the next two batters. But, Ruiz delivered the clutch, two-out hit with a lined single to center that plated McKinstry to trim the Arkansas lead to 3-2.
WHAT YOU MISSED:
*Ruiz produced most of Tulsa's offense on the night. He was 3-4 to account for three of the Drillers six hits, and he drove in three of their four runs. Scavuzzo had two of the other three hits.
*The injury to Perez forced the Arkansas bullpen to deliver 7.1 innings. Four relievers covered the workload, surrendering only 4 hits while recording 11 strikeouts.
*Karch Kowalczyk allowed only two hits and picked up three strikeouts in two relief innings for Tulsa.
*Each team struck out 12 times in the game.
*The weather forecast is not favorable in Little Rock for Thursday night's scheduled second game. It calls for an 80% chance of rain from Tropical Depression Gordon.
The series is scheduled to continue Thursday night with Game 2 in North Little Rock with first pitch at Dickey-Stephens Park slated for 6:10 p.m. The starting pitchers are scheduled to be:
TUL Ben Holmes (2-2, 2.82 ERA)
SPR Anthony Misiewicz (3-12, 5.51 ERA)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.