The pitching matchup for Game 1 of the Texas League's North Division Playoff Series Wednesday night at ONEOK Field featured a pair of hurlers that experienced very similar seasons. Tulsa's Eddie Butler and Arkansas' Drew Rucinski both posted impressive numbers during the first half of the season, resulting in each pitcher getting a promotion to the majors to make their big league debuts. Both eventually returned to the Texas League, and at times struggled to find their early season forms.
In the playoff opener, both right-handers seemed more like the pitchers from the first half, but it was Rucinski who finished on top. The Travs' starter allowed only an unearned run in the first inning and helped Arkansas take an early lead in the best-of-five series with a 4-1 victory in downtown Tulsa.
In the bottom of the first, Rucinski retired the first two hitters, but Taylor Featherston lined a two-out single into right field, and Ryan Casteel followed with another hit to right. Featherston raced to third on the single, and when right fielder Drew Heid's throw skipped by Kaleb Cowart, he raced home with the game's first run.
Butler allowed a base runner in three of the first four innings, but a pair of double plays helped keep the Travelers off the scoreboard.
They finally broke through in the fifth as Jett Bandy and Matt Long delivered consecutive one-out singles. At that point, Butler began to struggle with his command and walked Eric Stamets and Cowart on eight straight pitches to force in the tying run. Maikol Gonzalez followed with a base hit that brought Long home to make it 2-1.
With the bases still loaded, Butler recovered and registered a pair of strikeouts to end the threat.
The Drillers made a bid to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth. Chris O'Dowd drew a leadoff walk from Rucinski and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Delta Cleary Jr. After Cristhian Adames grounded out, Featherston lined a single into right field. O'Dowd attempted to score from second on the hit, but Heid's throw to the plate was in time for catcher Bandy to apply the tag for the third out of the inning.
It would be the final chance for Tulsa to get back in the game, as the Travelers added insurance runs in both the seventh and eighth innings.
In the seventh, Long led off with a triple against reliever Ken Roberts and scored on a base hit by Stamets.
The Travs increased their lead to 4-1 in the eighth as Mike Bianucci doubled with two outs off Nelson Gonzalez. Bianucci then scored when shortstop Featherston fielded Heid's grounder and threw low to first for an error.
Rucinski, who attended Union High School in Tulsa, was 3-1 in the regular season against the Drillers. In the playoff opener, he worked seven innings and allowed only five hits and the one unearned run. He had one walk and six strikeouts.
Butler pitched effectively but was done in by the control issues in the fifth. He surrendered six hits and only two runs in five innings of work.
Arkansas relievers Trevor Gott and Jairo Diaz combined to hold the Drillers without a hit over the final two frames.
The Travelers out-hit the Drillers 11-5 in the contest. Featherston and Brian Humphries accounted for most of Tulsa's offense, finishing with two hits each.
Game 2 of the series is scheduled for Thursday at ONEOK Field with starting time slated for 7:05PM. Texas League Pitcher of the Year Tyler Anderson (7-4, 1.98 ERA) will take the mound for the Drillers, while the Travelers will counter with Orangel Arenas (6-8, 3.86 ERA).
The series will move to North Little Rock for Game 3 on Friday, and if necessary, Games 4 and 5 on Saturday and Sunday.