The Northwest Arkansas Naturals were able to clinch a tie for the division and force a one game playoff against the Arkansas Travelers today at 7 pm. This is a winner-take-all situation. Texas League rules state that the first meeting between tied teams will serve as a one game playoff to determine the winner of the division for the first half. Yesterday was the end of the first half for the Texas League and it just so happens that the Travelers are in Springdale today.
Scott Blewett made the start for the Naturals last night and seemed to have good stuff but was really squeezed by the home plate umpire. Blewett also had some bad luck giving up some weak hits. The Travelers are a team that really hit the fastball well and Blewett was popping 94 consistently. But with the tight zone, Blewett was not getting the calls with his offspeed or borderline pitches. The Naturals staff was on the home plate umpire early and often in this game.
Down 5-0 things finally got to boiling point for the Naturals coaching staff. Blewett induced a 3-6-1 double play ball that looked like the batter was clearly out at first. However, the first base umpire gave the safe call saying Blewett was off the bag. There was an immediate argument from the Naturals and Manager Mike Rojas was thrown out. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to get my camera ready for the toss. I don’t know if Rojas was intentionally getting himself tossed to fire up the team or the umpire just didn’t want to be challenged, but it got the Naturals fired up.
Erick Mejia singled to start the inning and stole second. With two outs Jecksson Flores ripped a ball deep into the Travelers bullpen to cut the lead in half. Anderson Miller followed with a single to right before Alex Liddi hit an opposite field home run to cut the deficit to one.
Pedro Fernandez threw a zero in the top of the fifth and Donnie Dewees hit a no doubter in the bottom to tie the game at five.
Fernandez got the Travelers one, two, three in the top of the sixth keeping the momentum on the Naturals side. In the bottom of the inning the Naturals exploded for five. Nathan Esposito won his at bat with runners after Alex Liddi was intentionally walked to set up a double play putting runners on first and second to take the lead. With two outs and the bases loaded, Erick Mejia lined one into right center field for a bases clearing triple. The Naturals added one more on an error by the second baseman who did not have a good night.
The Naturals added one more run in the bottom of the seventh and that turned out to be the game winner as the Travelers rallied to come back in the top of the ninth. With two outs and two runners on, Travelers Joe DeCarlo was able to get one just over the wall in left. This brought Andres Machado into the game for the save. Machado hit 98 on the radar gun and was able to record a one out save.
The game was a fun one if you like offense. If you’re a pitching coach, you cringed most of the time. But it was a great atmosphere and the Naturals were able to come through. If you are in the northwest Arkansas area, southwest Missouri, or northeast Oklahoma region you need to head to Arvest Ballpark tonight and support the Naturals as they fight for the Texas League North Division title in a winner-take-all game at 7 pm.