The second-half of the Texas League season got underway Wednesday night, and for the Tulsa Drillers, it began very much like the first half ended. For the third straight game, the Tulsa bullpen failed to hold a late lead and Northwest Arkansas rallied for a 7-6 victory at Springdale's Arvest Ballpark.
The Drillers jumped to an early 6-1 lead, but the Naturals scored six unanswered runs to post the victory. Tulsa had finally given Parker Frazier some much-need run support by scoring in three of the first four innings, and he departed the game with a three-run lead. After working 6 1/3 innings, he watched from the dugout as the Naturals scored five times in the bottom of the seventh to take away what would have been his fourth win of the season.
The Drillers early offensive output began with two outs in the top of the first inning when Nolan Arenado singled, moved to second on a passed ball and scored on a base hit by Corey Dickerson.
They increased their lead to 3-0 with back-to-back homers in the third. With one out, Colorado Rockies rehabbing infielder Jonathan Herrera hit his first home run to make it 2-0. Arenado followed with his seventh of the season to give Tulsa a three-run cushion.
The Naturals scored their first run in the bottom of the third with help from their own rehabbing major leaguer. After Frazier struck out the inning's first two batters, Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain singled. Rey Navarro followed with a triple to score Cain with the Naturals first run.
The Drillers got the run back in the fourth as Kent Matthes tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly catcher Jose Gonzalez.
Two more runs in the sixth inning gave Tulsa a 6-1 lead. Four straight singles from Angelys Nina, Matthes, Gonzalez and Mike Mitchell accounted for the runs.
Things started to fall apart for Tulsa in the bottom of the sixth when the Naturals scored a pair of unearned runs. Brian Fletcher led off and reached safely on an error by first baseman Ben Paulsen. After Johnny Whittleman flied out, Paulo Orlando tripled home Fletcher. Eric Duncan brought Orlando home with a sacrifice fly.
In the seventh, Frazier retired the inning's first batter before surrendering a single to Julio Rodriguez and a double to Cain, leaving runners at second and third. Manager Duane Espy called on Joey Williamson to replace Frazier. The reliever struck out Navarro, but the ball escaped Gonzalez. The catcher recovered the ball and threw home to Williamson who appeared to be in position to easily tag out Rodriguez trying to score, but the pitcher dropped the ball for an error.
Williamson retired Fletcher on a strikeout, but he then walked Whittleman to load the bases. A wild pitch scored Cain to cut the Tulsa lead to a single run. With runners at second and third, Orlando dropped a single over the head of Paulsen to score both Navarro and Whittleman to give the Naturals the lead.
Tulsa threatened in the ninth inning, putting runners at first and second with one out, but Corey Dickerson flied out and Nina grounded out.
The Drillers entered the game as the Texas League's top fielding team, but their two errors allowed Northwest Arkansas to score six unearned runs.
Frazier was unfortunate to not get the victory. He surrendered only six hits and one earned run while walking one batter and striking out seven.
Williamson suffered the loss to even his record at 2-2.
Offensively, the Drillers totaled 11 hits, marking their third straight game to reach double figures.
Four of the hits came against Kansas City Royals pitcher Felipe Paulino, who was making an injury rehab start for the Naturals. Paulino was charged for three runs in his three-inning stint.
After sweeping its past two series, Tulsa will look to avoid being swept in the fourth and final game in Springdale Thursday night. The pitching matchup will feature Edwar Cabrera (7-4, 2.97 ERA) for the Drillers against Justin Marks (3-3, 3.49 ERA) of the Naturals. First pitch is slated for 7:00PM at Arvest Ballpark.