Randal Grichuk really likes hitting at ONEOK Field. The Arkansas third baseman had a productive game against Tulsa Thursday, going 2-5 with a home run and three runs scored, but Grichuk one-upped himself Saturday. He hit not one, but two homers on the night, including the game-winning two-run blast in the top of the ninth inning that gave the Travelers an 8-6 come from behind victory before a sellout crowd of 8,063 at ONEOK Field.
Saturday night's game felt eerily similar to when these two teams met back on April 25. In both games, the Drillers jumped out to a large early lead only to let it gradually slip away.
The Drillers jumped to an early lead with a five-run first inning. Rafael Ortega, playing in his first game since April 20, laid down a gorgeous bunt single to lead off the first. He then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Delta Cleary Jr. and on to third on a wild pitch. After a strikeout, Kyle Parker worked a nine-pitch walk to bring Angelys Nina to the plate.
Nina deposited a pitch from Arkansas starter Matt Oye into the terrace section in left field to stake the Drillers to a 3-0 lead.
Angelys Nina receives congratulations from manager Kevin Riggs for his first inning home run. (Rich Crimi)
Tulsa's scoring would've come to a close in the first, but a couple of costly Arkansas miscues prolonged the inning.
Henry Wrigley followed Nina with a two-out single, before third baseman Kaleb Cowart cleanly fielded a ground ball off the bat of Jayson Langfels and threw to second for what looked to be an easy force out. The bounced out of second baseman Taylor Lindsey's glove, however, and bounded into center field, allowing the inning to continue.
Jose Gonzalez followed with a harmless fly ball to right-center that right fielder Randal Grichuk had in his sights until center fielder Travis Witherspoon crossed in front of him, causing the ball to drop. Both Wrigley and Langfels scored on the play to give Tulsa a five-run lead.
Grichuk and Lindsey helped get two of the runs back for Arkansas in the second. Grichuk led off the inning by belting a solo homer to deep left field. Lindsey followed with a double into the left field corner. After a sacrifice bunt, Drew Heid rolled an RBI groundout to second base, scoring Lindsey to cut the Drillers lead to three.
Wrigley answered with a deep drive of his own in the bottom of the third to stretch Tulsa's lead back to four. The big first baseman from California turned on the inning's first pitch, driving it well over the terrace section in left. On one bounce, the ball caromed off the Osage Casino Pavilion sign some 450 feet away.
Chad Bettis had a solid outing on the mound, allowing two runs on four hits, while striking out four and walking none. His night was cut short after five innings, however, as he seemed to experience discomfort after striking out Rolando Gomez to end the fifth.
First baseman C.J. Cron's solo home run cut the Drillers lead back to three in the sixth, before the Travs scored three times in the eighth to even the score. With the bases loaded and one out, Witherspoon hit a sacrifice fly to score Cron, who singled to lead off the inning. Heid then roped a two-run double into the left-center gap to cap off Arkansas' comeback and tie the game at six.
Grichuk did the rest in the eighth for the Travelers. With two outs, Robbie Widlansky drew a two-out walk to setup the game-winning homer.
Both teams return to ONEOK Field Sunday afternoon for the series finale. Tim Gustafson (1-2, 7.86 ERA) will take the hill for Tulsa against Manny Correa (1-3, 4.50 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 2:05PM.