The Tulsa Drillers opened a critical eight-game road trip Tuesday night in Northwest Arkansas and produced one of their biggest offensive showings of the season. The Drillers matched season highs with 3 home runs and 17 hits. Despite the big numbers, they still needed a late rally to gain a victory, scoring three times in the eighth inning and once more in the ninth to post a 7-5 victory at Arvest Ballpark.
The win was the fourth straight for the first-place Drillers and allowed them to maintain their three-game lead over Arkansas, who defeated Springfield 2-1. Tulsa now has 13 games remaining in the first half of the season.
Tuesday's opener in Springdale featured a pitching matchup of major league hurlers. Bruce Chen took the mound for Northwest Arkansas on an injury rehabilitation assignment from the Kansas City Royals, while Mike McClendon made his debut for the Drillers. McClendon has spent parts of three seasons (2010-2012) in the majors with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Chen worked a scoreless first inning despite allowing three straight one-out hits, but he was victimized by Harold Riggins in the second. The Tulsa designated hitter produced a tape-measure homer to straightaway centerfield that easily cleared the outfield fence and gave the Drillers a 1-0 lead. It was the second homer this season for Riggins off a major league hurler, as he also homered one month ago off rehabbing Jaime Garcia in Springfield.
Ryan Casteel doubled the Tulsa lead to 2-0 when he led off the third with his fifth home run of the year.
McClendon opened with three scoreless frames before the Naturals scored three times in the bottom of the fourth. Jorge Bonifacio led off with a base hit and Cheslor Cuthbert followed with his seventh home run of the year to even the score.
Lane Adams made it three straight hits with a single to center. Adams stole second to move into scoring position and came home on a one-out hit by Mark Threlkeld to give the Naturals a 3-2 lead.
The Drillers again tied the score when Jayson Langfels delivered Tulsa's third solo homer leading off the sixth inning. It was the second home run of the season for Langfels.
Northwest Arkansas went back in front in the seventh as Max Ramirez and Threlkeld opened the inning with consecutive hits. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, and Angel Franco brought them both home with a single to right field that made it 5-3.
The Drillers again responded, thanks to a little help from Naturals reliever Malcolm Culver in the eighth inning. Culver loaded the bases with a pair of hit batters and a walk. With one out Taylor Featherston lined out, but Cristhian Adames followed with a sharp grounder just inside the first base bag and into the right field corner. All three base runners scored before Adames was thrown out trying to advance to third. The three-run double put the Drillers back in front 6-5.
They added an insurance run in the ninth when they opened the inning with four straight hits off Noel Arguelles.
Scott Oberg pitched around a leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth to complete the victory. Oberg is now a perfect 13 for 13 in save opportunities this season.
McClendon picked up the win in his Drillers' debut. The right-hander allowed eight hits and five runs in his seven innings of work. He had four strikeouts and did not walk a batter.
Chen surrendered eight hits and two runs in his three innings of work for the Naturals.
Every Tulsa starter had at least one-hit in the game. Casteel, Brian Humphries and Dustin Garneau, the 3-5 hitters in the lineup, all picked up three hits. Adames finished with two hits and three runs batted in.
The teams will be back in action Wednesday night with the second game of their series.