The Tulsa Drillers were defeated by the Springfield Cardinals Monday night, but they still took a big step toward winning their third straight Texas League North Division first-half title.
The Drillers dropped a 5-3 decision to the Cardinals at Springfield's Hammons Field, but there was better news in Little Rock. Northwest Arkansas swept a doubleheader from second-place Arkansas, reducing Tulsa's magic number for clinching the first-half crown to only two.
The results mean the Drillers could possibly clinch the first-half title on Tuesday night. With seven games remaining in the first half, any combination of Tulsa victories and Arkansas losses totaling two clinches the title and a playoff berth for the Drillers.
Tulsa's loss in Springfield was hampered by rain. The game began 50 minutes late because of rain and was called with one out in the top of the ninth inning because of another rain shower that struck Hammons Field.
Former Oklahoma State University pitcher Tyler Lyons started the game for Springfield in a Major League injury rehabilitation assignment from the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Drillers scratched out a run against Lyons in the top of the first inning. With one out, Cristhian Adames singled and moved to second on a ground out from Ryan Casteel. Harold Riggins brought Adames home with the game's first run on a two-out base hit.
The Cardinals responded in the bottom of the first against former Springfield hurler Richard Castillo. Leadoff batter Greg Miclat drew a walk and Jacob Wilson followed with his fourth home run of the season to give the Redbirds a 2-1 lead.
Tulsa evened the score in the fourth with a run off Kyle Hald in his first inning of work in relief of Lyons. Taylor Featherston led off with a double and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly from Riggins.
The Drillers took the lead in the top of the sixth as Jared Simon led off with base hit. Simon moved into scoring position on a ground out by Delta Cleary Jr. before coming home with the go-ahead run on a two-out single by Featherston.
The lead was short-lived as the Redbirds promptly tied the game again with run in the bottom of the sixth. Miclat drew a leadoff walk and advanced to third on a base hit from Jacob Wilson. Miclat scored to tie the game at 3-3 on a ground out by Jonathan Rodriguez.
Springfield went back in front with another run in the seventh. With one out Castillo hit Patrick Wisdom with a pitch, and Nick Martini followed with a base hit that put runners at the corners. Pinch-hitter Curt Smith delivered a deep drive to left field that Tyler Massey caught at the top of the fence. Wisdom tagged on the fly out and trotted home to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead.
The Redbirds added a final run in the eighth inning without getting a hit off reliever Brandon Erbe. With one out, Cody Stanley walked and stole second base. Erbe then uncorked two wild pitches that allowed Stanley to score.
Featherston struck out to open the ninth inning before the skies opened up. The rain came down so hard and quickly that the grounds crew was unable get the home plate area completely covered with the tarp.
After waiting 20 minutes, the game was called and made official by the umpires.
Castillo suffered the loss for Tulsa despite pitching effectively. The right-hander worked 6.2 innings, surrendering four runs on five hits. The defeat dropped his record to 2-4.
Lyons, who is recovering from a shoulder strain, pitched two innings and allowed the one run on three hits. The lefthander walked one batter and collected three strikeouts.
Hald, who was originally scheduled to be the starter before Lyons was announced, pitched five relief innings to pick up the win and improve his record to 6-1.
The Drillers will conclude their long road trip Tuesday night in Springfield. Jon Gray (6-3, 3.97 ERA) will work the finale for the Drillers against Sam Gaviglio (3-8, 5.98 ERA) of the Cardinals. Starting time at Hammons Field is scheduled for 7:10 p.m.