Heading into the final inning of Tuesday's game against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, it looked as though the Drillers were going to suffer the heartbreak of another close loss as Tulsa found itself trailing 2-1. But Tulsa's offense sprang to life in the ninth as the Drillers mounted a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Naturals at ONEOK Field.
The come-from-behind win was just the second time this season that the Drillers have overcome a deficit entering the last inning. It also marked the first time the club had pulled off the feat at ONEOK Field in 2015.
Randy Fontanez turned in a solid outing for Tulsa to start the contest despite it being his first game pitching in over a month due to being on the disabled list in Oklahoma City.
Fontanez' performance actually mirrored that of teammate Jeremy Kehrt from two nights ago as both pitchers tossed three shutout innings, allowing just one hit, while throwing exactly 36 pitches.
But on the other side of the field, Naturals starter Brooks Pounders matched Fontanez and the Tulsa bullpen pitch-for-pitch. The barrel-chested right-hander limited the Drillers to just three hits over seven shutout innings before turning the game over to his bullpen.
Steve Smith relieved Fontanez to begin the top of the fourth and was greeted rudely by the Naturals.
After striking out top Kansas City Royals prospect Raul Mondesi, Smith issued a walk to Jorge Bonifacio. Alex Liddi then stepped up and launched a pitch deep into the left field terrace to break the previously scoreless affair as Liddi's 13th homer of the year put Northwest Arkansas on top 2-0.
Smith recovered to throw two shutout innings after the fourth, and his work helped shift the momentum of the game back to Tulsa.
A trio of Driller relievers followed Smith to the mound as Daniel Tillman, Matt West and Ryan Dennick all turned in scoreless innings of work to keep Tulsa close.
Tempers flared after the fifth inning was completed when Drillers hitting coach Shawn Wooten was ejected by the home plate umpire for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. Although the Tulsa bats didn't respond immediately, they did come to life over the final two innings.
Facing Northwest Arkansas reliever Aroni Nina, Daniel Mayora began the eighth with a leadoff double. Two batters later, he came around to score following back-to-back base hits from Yadir Drake and Peter Lavin to bring the Drillers to within one. A groundout and a walk later, Kyle Farmer walked up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. But Nina was able to wiggle out of the jam by striking out Farmer to keep the Naturals up 2-1.
Brandon Trinkwon got the final rally started with a leadoff walk to begin the bottom of the ninth off reliever Malcom Culver. One batter later, Mayora smacked a base hit into left to put the tying and winning runs on base. Pinch-hitter Erisbel Arruebarrena kept the rally going by working a walk to load the bases with one out. Culver recovered to strike out Drake for the second out of the inning before southpaw Daniel Stumpf was summoned from the bullpen to face the lefty-swinging Lavin.
But Lavin foiled the strategy as he grounded the 0-1 offering from Stumpf for a single to right field, bringing home Trinkwon and Mayora for the game-winner and sending the Drillers into celebration mode.
Lavin led the Drillers at the plate Tuesday as he finished 3-5 batting in the leadoff spot while driving in all three of the Tulsa runs. Mayora also had a strong night as he went 2-4 with two runs scored.
Dennick earned his fourth win of the year for his scoreless inning of work for Tulsa while Culver was saddled with the loss.
The Drillers and Naturals will play game two of their four-game series Wednesday night with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05PM. Tulsa has yet to announce a starter after scheduled starting pitcher Deck McGuire was called up to Triple-A Oklahoma City shortly after the game began this evening. Northwest Arkansas will send Kyle Zimmer (2-4, 2.44 ERA) to the mound in opposition.