For seven innings Sunday afternoon at ONEOK Field, Tulsa and Northwest Arkansas were hooked into a pitcher's duel. However, with the Drillers holding a 2-1 lead, both team's bats came alive in the eighth.
The Naturals scored three runs to take a short-lived lead, but Tulsa answered with four big runs of its own in the bottom half of the eighth to go back in front. The first-place Drillers then survived a scary ninth inning to hang on for a 6-5 win before 5,455 in downtown Tulsa.
After getting five outstanding innings from spot starter Carlos Hernandez, the Drillers appeared to be on their way to an uneventful victory for much of the afternoon, but Northwest Arkansas had other ideas. Limited to only two hits and one run through the first seven innings, the Naturals rallied to take the lead.
With one out in the top of the eighth, Justin Trapp and Whit Merrifield produced consecutive singles off Tulsa reliever Kraig Sitton. Lane Adams grounded into a force out, but Jorge Bonifacio produced the third hit of the inning with a long home run that cleared the Budweiser Terrace section in left field. It was Bonifacio's third homer of the season and gave the Naturals a 4-2 lead.
With their lead abruptly gone, the Drillers responded in the bottom of the eighth. Newcomers Michael Ramirez and Jose Rivera opened the rally with back-to-back hits. Cristhian Adames then laid down a sacrifice bunt, but when pitcher Scott Alexander's throw was wide of first, the Drillers had the bases full.
Delta Cleary Jr. was retired on strikes, but Ryan Casteel lined a base hit into centerfield that scored both Ramirez and Rivera to tie the game at 4-4. On the next pitch from Alexander, Brian Humphries ripped a double into the right field corner and scored both Adames and Casteel to put the Drillers in front 6-4.
The game was far from over, as the Naturals battled back in the top of the ninth. Orlando Calixte, the hero of Saturday's game, led off with a base hit off Tulsa closer Scott Oberg. After a ground out by Edinson Rincon, ORU product Jared Schlehuber lined a double down the left field line that scored Calixte to make it a one-run game.
Oberg retired Juan Graterol on a ground ball to first for the second out. With Schlehuber at third, Oberg fell behind Trapp with three straight balls. After two called strikes, Trapp swung and missed at a curve ball to end the game and preserve the win for the Drillers.
The late offensive fireworks overshadowed a strong outing from Hernandez. Filling in for the injured Richard Castillo and making his fourth start of the season, Hernandez was outstanding, allowing only one hit and one walk in five shutout innings, matching his longest outing of the season. The only hit against the lefthander came in the first inning on a one-out double by Bonifacio. He also issued his only walk in the first, but he worked out of the two-on, one-out jam by getting a strikeout and a fly out.
After the escape, Hernandez did not allow another base runner, retiring the final 14 hitters he faced.
Tulsa took an early lead in the game with a single run in the bottom of the first inning. Adames led off with a double and moved to third on a fly out by Cleary Jr. Casteel brought Adames home with a sacrifice fly to right field that gave Tulsa a 1-0 lead.
Off the bat, it appeared as though Christhian Adames had added another Tulsa run in the bottom of the third. Adames launched a fly ball to right-center, but Bonifacio made an incredible catch over the wall to steal a home run from the Drillers shortstop.
The Drillers doubled their lead in the fifth. Jayson Langfels drew a leadoff walk, and Tyler Massey followed with a base hit. Langfels came home on an errant throw back to the infield from Bonifacio in right field, giving Tulsa a 2-0 lead.
The Naturals cut the lead in half with a run off reliever Leuris Gomez in the top of the sixth. In his first outing since joining the Drillers from Colorado Springs, Gomez walked Justin Trapp to open the sixth. After a single by Lane Adams and a double steal, Bonifacio scored Trapp with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-1.
Each team finished with seven hits in the game, but the Drillers were aided by four Naturals' errors.
Bonifacio finished with two hits and four runs batted in, while Casteel collected three RBI.
Hernandez received a no decision but lowered his season ERA to 2.01. Despite surrendering the three runs, Sitton collected the win to improve his record to 2-1.
The final game of the four-game series between the two teams is scheduled for Monday morning at ONEOK Field. Eddie Butler (2-4, 2.98 ERA) will take the mound in the finale for the Drillers, while J.C. Sulbaran (1-2, 3.71 ERA) will pitch for the Naturals. Starting time is scheduled for 11:05 a.m.