Baseball is a funny game. Just ask Tulsa Drillers starting pitcher Eddie Butler. The right-hander had been outstanding in his first three starts this season, allowing no more than two runs in any of his outings and holding hitters to a .188 average. In his fourth start Saturday night, Butler was not as effective, surrendering seven hits and three runs in five innings to Northwest Arkansas, but picked up his first win of the season in Tulsa's 9-3 win over the Naturals before a crowd of 6,712 at ONEOK Field.
Butler collected the victory because his teammates produced their second-highest run output of the season. In addition, the Drillers were aided by three errors by the Naturals.
Although the Drillers right-hander was not at his best, he battled throughout his outing. The Naturals put runners on base in each of Butler's five innings, but Butler used four strikeouts to his advantage as Northwest Arkansas stranded seven base runners in the five frames.
For the first time in the series, Northwest Arkansas scored the game's first run. Brian Bocock led off the game by drawing a walk. After Lane Adams singled off the leg of third baseman Jayson Langfels, Jorge Bonifacio doubled home Bocock with the game's opening tally.
The Naturals made it 2-0 in the top of the third as Adams singled again and scored on a double by Cheslor Cuthbert.
The Drillers erased the lead and went in front with three runs of their own in the bottom of the third. With one out, Langfels was hit by a pitch and Delta Cleary Jr. followed with a base hit that put runners at the corners. Tulsa tried to swipe a run, but Langfels was thrown out at home on the back end of a double steal attempt.
Taylor Featherston walked to extend the inning, and then the Drillers caught a break. Cristhian Adames lofted a fly ball to centerfield that Adams lost in the twilight. After initially breaking in, Adams raced back and the ball deflected out of his glove on his diving attempt. Both runners scored as Adames raced to third with a triple. The shortstop came home himself on a passed ball that gave Tulsa a 3-2 lead.
Northwest Arkansas quickly answered in the top of the fourth as Butler continued to labor. With one out, Ethan Chapman drew a walk and Juan Graterol singled. A base hit by Bocock scored Chapman to tie the game at 3-3.
From there, the Drillers scored the game's final six runs, and they again got help from the Naturals. The first two runs scored in the bottom half of the fourth. After Tom Murphy walked, Joey Wong hit a groundball to first baseman Jared Schlehuber. Schlehuber successfully fielded the ball and tried to start a double play, but his throw to second sailed into left field. The error put the runners at second and third. Tim Smalling plated Murphy with a sacrifice fly, but Wong was thrown out also trying to advance on the play. It cost the Drillers a run as Tyler Massey followed with his first homer of the season to make it 5-3.
Tulsa plated three more runs in the fifth and again a Naturals miscue played a role. Cleary Jr. led off with an infield single and moved to second on a throwing error by shortstop Bocock. Featherston followed with a run-scoring hit before a third straight hit by Adames put runners at first and second. Dustin Garneau's double into the left field corner plated them both, giving the Drillers a five-run lead.
In the eighth, Wong singled and moved to second on an error before scoring on a base hit by Cleary Jr., one of three hits in the game for the centerfielder.
The only other Tulsa player with more than one hit in the game was Adames, who finished 2-4. The Naturals actually out-hit the Drillers 10-9.
Nelson Gonzalez worked two scoreless innings out of the Tulsa bullpen, as did Cole White.
The victory for Butler evened his record at 1-1.
The Drillers will have a day off on Easter Sunday before beginning a four-game series with the Arkansas Travelers Monday night in Little Rock. Dan Winkler (1-1, 1.06 ERA) will pitch the opener for the Drillers against Michael Roth (0-2, 6.46 ERA), who spent a great deal of the 2013 season in the majors with the Los Angeles Angels. Starting time at Dickey-Stephens Park will be 7:10 p.m.