The minor league playoffs continued on Saturday, with the Double-A Midland RockHounds winning their second of three do-or-die road games in the best-of-5 Texas League Championship Series. They opened the series by falling into an 0-2 hole in their two home dates, but they took Game 3 in Tulsa on Friday to keep their postseason alive. After another victory tonight they’ve now evened the standings, sending us to a winner-take-all Game 5 on Sunday. At stake for Midland is a fourth straight league title.
Here’s a closer look.
Midland RockHounds vs. Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers)
League: Double-A Texas League
Best-of-5 Championship Series
Series tied 2-2
On Friday the Hounds had to face a former A’s pitcher in Brandon McCarthy, but on Saturday the tables turned and Tulsa had to face a former Dodgers Top 100 prospect in Grant Holmes. It was L.A. who traded Holmes to Oakland last summer in the Reddick/Hill deal, and now he was back to compete against their minor league squad.
Holmes had been knocked around in his Division Series start against San Antonio, but he was rock solid against the Drillers in what amounted to the biggest game of his career so far. Four of his first six innings went 1-2-3, and in the 2nd he managed to pitch around trouble unscathed.
On the hitting side, Midland opened the scoring in the 2nd thanks to a gift from Tulsa. The Hounds had reached first and third with two out, but before they had a chance to do anything about it the catcher let by a passed ball to bring home the lead runner (Sean Murphy).
Unfortunately, Holmes gave the run back in the 4th. With two out in the frame, he induced a comebacker but threw the ball away for a three-base error. He followed that up almost immediately with a wild pitch, plating the most gift-wrapped run in the history of baseball.
With the score knotted at an unearned 1-1, the Hounds finally strung together a crooked number. Max Schrock beat out out an infield single, and two more ground ball singles by Jermaine Curtis and Viosergy Rosa brought him home. Tulsa called to their bullpen, and Sheldon Neuse greeted the new reliever with a change of pace from all that small ball — he jacked a three-run homer to cap the rally and give Midland a commanding 5-1 lead.
“Safe to say I think that Midland has taken the mojo in this series.” - Tulsa broadcaster
Holmes finally ran into a wall in the 7th. A sequence of single, walk, strikeout, single brought home another run and forced a call to the bullpen. Fortunately they were up to the task, as Brandon Mann and Nolan Blackwood got out of the jam with just one more run scoring and the lead safely intact. Midland got the run back in the 8th, when the Drillers botched a potential double play ball badly enough for Tyler Ramirez to score all the way from first.
The lead was 6-3 with six outs to go. Tyler Sturdevant made things interesting in the 8th, putting runners at the corners. However, closer Kyle Finnegan came in early to douse the fire and seal the four-out save — with a little help in the 9th thanks to an unassisted double play turned by shortstop Jorge Mateo.
Sheldon Neuse, 3B: 1-for-3, HR, 2 BB, 3 RBI
Sean Murphy, C: 1-for-3, BB, run
Max Schrock, 2B: 1-for-5, run
Viosergy Rosa, 1B: 2-for-5, RBI
Mateo & Ramirez: 0-for-8, BB, run
Grant Holmes: 6⅓ ip, 3 runs (2 earned), 6 Ks, 3 BB, 4 hits, 94 pitches (58 strikes)
It all comes down to Game 5 on Sunday. Midland will hand the ball to James Naile, which is an uncanny bit of deja vu. Last year, it was Naile who won the championship clincher against Northwest Arkansas (Royals) with six beautiful, scoreless innings. Now it’s up to him to deliver the ring once again. He’s made two starts in this year’s postseason and lost both badly, but one way or other this is the one we’ll remember.