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Late Home Run Pushes Drillers Past Naturals

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TULSA, Oklahoma -

Tulsa starting pitcher Jon Gray showed a near sellout crowd at ONEOK Field Saturday night why the Colorado Rockies made him a first-round pick last year, but it was another top prospect that provided the late heroics to give the Drillers a victory. After Northwest Arkansas rallied with two runs in the top of the eighth inning to forge a tie game, Trevor Story led off the bottom half of the eighth with his fourth Double-A home run to put the Drillers back in front. Cole White then worked a scoreless ninth inning to close out the game and give the Drillers a 4-3 victory.

For most of the night, it looked as if Gray would become just the third 10-game winner in the Texas League this season. He helped stake Tulsa to a 3-1 lead through seven innings, but the Naturals promptly rallied with a pair of runs off reliever Nelson Gonzalez in the top of the eighth.

A pair of singles by Justin Trapp and Ethan Chapman put runners at first and second with one out. Angel Franco then hit a sharp grounder to the left of second baseman Taylor Featherston. It looked as if Chapman would be forced at second on the play, but the ball escaped Featherston's glove. He did however recover quickly to retire Franco at first for the second out of the inning.

The play proved pivotal as the Naturals ended up with runners at second and third instead of at the corners. The next batter, Jorge Bonifacio, lined a base hit into right field. The ball got to Tyler Massey on one hop and Chapman was preparing to stop at third base, however the ball caromed out of the right fielder's glove. The error allowed Chapman to come home and tie the game at 3-3.

The two-run rally kept Gray from registering his 10th victory, but Story made sure the Drillers got a win. The shortstop led off the bottom of the eighth with a liner down the right field line off former big leaguer Blake Wood. The drive was just inside the foul pole and just over the outfield fence that is just 307 feet from home plate.

White made sure this lead did not get away. He worked a 1-2-3 ninth to end the game and collect his 10th save of the year.

Gray had to survive a shaky first inning, but he was nearly unhittable over the next six innings. He entered the game with a 7.78 first-inning ERA this season, and this night also began auspiciously. He opened the game by walking the first two Northwest Arkansas hitters. With runners at first and second, the Naturals Cheslor Cuthbert grounded a single into centerfield to bring home the first run of the game, but Gray recovered to retire the next three hitters.

His teammates quickly got him back on even terms with a run of their own in the bottom half of the first. Delta Cleary Jr. drew a leadoff walk from Northwest Arkansas starter Tim Melville and later scored on a one-out single by Featherston to tie the game at 1-1.

Both pitchers then settled in, and the game remained tied until the bottom of the fourth inning. As Cleary Jr. did in the first, Ryan Casteel drew a leadoff walk from Melville. Brian Humphries followed with a base hit, and Story drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.

Melville came close to escaping the jam, retiring Jared Simon on a pop out and Jose Gonzalez on a strikeout, but the Naturals' right-hander issued a five-pitch walk to Joey Wong to force in a run and give the Drillers a 2-1 lead.

Tulsa upped its lead to two runs in the bottom of the seventh when Cleary Jr. walked, stole second and scored on Massey's 12th double of the season.

After the tough first inning, Gray was exceptional. He held the Naturals without a hit over the next four innings before Franco ended the streak with a single to open the sixth. Franco was caught stealing, and Gray worked a 1-2-3 seventh to end his night.

In his seven innings, Gray surrendered the one run on two hits and three walks. The University of Oklahoma product recorded six strikeouts and appeared on his way to joining Drew Rucinski of Arkansas and Nate Long of Midland as the Texas League's only 10-game winners this season.

The two teams combined for only 10 hits in the game. Massey was the only player with more than one, finishing 2-4.

The Drillers will wrap up their weeklong homestand Sunday night at ONEOK Field against the Naturals. Colorado Rockies right-hander Christian Bergman will make his second injury-rehabilitation start for Tulsa, while Andy Ferguson (8-9, 3.29 ERA) will take the mound for Northwest Arkansas. First pitch for the finale is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

 

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