Tyler Matzek and Angelys Nina turned in solid performances Monday afternoon to keep the Tulsa Drillers in the thick of Texas League North Division pennant chase. The left-handed Matzek held the Springfield Cardinals to two runs through six innings, and Nina blasted his seventh homer of the season, while also making several outstanding plays at second base, to lead the Drillers to a 5-3 victory at ONEOK Field.
Trailing Springfield and Arkansas by just 1.5 games in the North division standings play, Tulsa used the victory to move within ½ game of the Cards and within 1 game of the Travelers with just eight games to play in the first-half season. The first-half divisional champion will earn a spot in the Texas League Playoffs that begin in September.
The win, which was Tulsa's seventh in their last nine games, secured at least a series split for the Drillers.
Matzek recorded his fourth straight quality start Monday. The talented, young prospect scattered eight hits, struck out three, and walked two for his third win of the season and his second in as many starts.
Sloppy defense by both teams in the second inning led to the game's first two runs.
With one out in the top of the inning, Luis Mateo singled off of Matzek. After a fly out by Audry Perez, Mateo stole second base. Two pitches later, he broke for third when an offering by Matzek hit the dirt and caromed away from the catcher Jose Gonzalez. Gonzalez retrieved the wild pitch and gunned it towards third, but his throw sailed wide of the bag and into left field, allowing Mateo to scamper home for the game's first run.
In the home half of the inning, it was Tulsa's turn to benefit from a poor defensive play. With runners on first and second and one out, Gonzalez grounded a potential double play ball towards third base. Ruben Gotay picked the groundball cleanly, but his throw ended up in right field, allowing Nina to score and tie the game.
Tulsa took a 3-1 lead in the fourth on Nina's home run. Kent Matthes led off the inning with a single to setup the second baseman's two-run blast into the Drillers' right field bullpen.
Springfield got one back a half inning later. James Ramsey doubled down the left field line to lead off the inning, and advanced to third on Gotay's fly out to deep center. Chris Swauger plated the center fielder with a sacrifice fly to right-center.
Right fielder Matthes collided with center fielder Rafael Ortega on Swauger's sacrifice fly, but was able to make the catch. Neither player was hurt on the play.
The Drillers tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the sixth courtesy of Delta Cleary Jr. and Cristhian Adames. After Gonzalez doubled with one out, Cleary Jr. plated the catcher with a base hit to center field. Two batters later, Adames sliced an RBI single to right field to score Cleary Jr. from second that made it 5-2
Springfield cut Tulsa's lead to two with a run off reliever Dan Houston in the eighth. Xavier Scruggs scored on a fielder's choice grounder off the bat of Mateo, but the Redbirds would draw no closer.
Cole White hit the first batter in the top of the ninth, but a double play grounder and strikeout ended the contest. For White, it was his third save in three opportunities since moving into the closer's role for the Drillers.
The two teams return to action at ONEOK Field for the series finale Tuesday night. Christian Bergman (3-5, 3.15) will take the mound for Tulsa against lefthander Ryan Sherriff (1-1, 3.60), who was just recently called up from Class A Advanced Palm Beach. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05PM.