Jose Rivera did not join the Tulsa Drillers until nearly a month into the 2014 season. Despite seeing limited opportunities, the infielder has been a valuable contributor to the Drillers move to the top of the Texas League standings, hitting safely in six of the nine games he has started.
Rivera produced his biggest hit of the year Sunday afternoon. His two-out triple in the eighth inning scored Joey Wong to break a tie game and help send the Drillers to a 4-2 win over Midland in their homestand finale at ONEOK Field.
The victory gave the Drillers a three-game sweep of the RockHounds and solidified their hold on first-place in the North Division of the TL. The win, combined with San Antonio's defeat of Arkansas, moved Tulsa three games in front of the Travelers with only 14 games remaining in the first half.
Rivera's game-winning triple was his only hit in the contest. The 1-3 performance actually lowered his season average to .345.
For the first half of the game, it did not appear that Tulsa would need any late game heroics to post the win.
After Dan Winkler worked a quick 1-2-3 top of the first, it took the Drillers only three pitches in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead. Leadoff hitter Delta Cleary Jr. singled into right field on Zach Neal's second offering, and on the next pitch, Taylor Featherston grounded a double just inside the third base bag. Cleary Jr. scored all the way from first on the hit to give the Drillers a 1-0 lead.
Winkler blanked the RockHounds through the first five frames, allowing only one hit before running into trouble in the top of the sixth. After Winkler retired the first two hitters in the sixth, Conner Crumbliss and Chad Oberacker both singled. A walk to Max Muncy loaded the bases and ended Winkler's afternoon.
Nelson Gonzalez was summoned from the Tulsa bullpen and lost the lead before throwing a pitch. Preparing to throw his first offering, Gonzalez was called for a balk that brought Crumbliss home with the game-tying run and ending Winkler's hopes of obtaining his sixth win. Shortly thereafter, the Tulsa starter was on the hook for a loss when Gonzalez threw a wild pitch that allowed Oberacker to jog home and put the RockHounds in front 2-1.
The Drillers answered in the bottom of the sixth when Tyler Massey led off with a base hit and then scored when Dustin Garneau doubled. Tulsa missed a good chance to retake the lead in the inning. A walk and a hit batter loaded the bases with only one out, but Cleary Jr. and Featherston both grounded into force outs to end the threat.
The game remained tied at 2-2 until Rivera struck in the eighth. Wong walked with one out and advanced to second on a ground out from Jared Simon. With the outfield playing shallow, Rivera split the gap in right-center field with a drive that landed on the warning track. Wong scored on the hit while Rivera raced to third.
The Drillers added an insurance run when Cleary Jr. struck out, but the third strike went to the backstop, allowing Rivera to come home and Cleary Jr. to reach first safely to make it 4-2.
Tulsa closer Scott Oberg pitched around a two-out walk in the ninth to close out the win and record his 12th save of the season.
Cole White pitched a scoreless eighth inning to pick up the win and improve his record to 2-1.
It was a disappointing day for Winkler, who was attempting to join Frisco's Luke Jackson as the Texas League's only 6-game winners. The right-hander was tagged for two earned runs in 5.2 innings. He did pick up five strikeouts to increase his league-leading total to 68, while the two runs increased his TL leading ERA to 1.49.
Tulsa will not play on Monday and will begin a four-game series at Northwest Arkansas Tuesday evening. First pitch for the opener in Springdale is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at Arvest Ballpark.