Photo Courtesy: Bre Conyers
North Little Rock, Ark. (TRAVELERS) - The Arkansas Travelers clinched the second half title in the Texas League North Division on Friday with their fifth consecutive win, a 4-1 victory over the Springfield Cardinals on Friday Dickey-Stephens Park. Lay Batista (5-8) had his best performance of the season with just two hits allowed over eight innings.
The victory coupled with Tulsa's 4-3 victory over the NW Arkansas Naturals in 12 innings lowered the Travs' magic number to one, but because they own the tiebreaker with the Naturals the Travs are now division champions. The Travs will finish the regular season with three games at home against the Naturals in a tune-up for the North Division Playoff with the Tulsa Drillers that begins on Wednesday night at ONEOK Field.
Friday's win also clinched the season series with the Cardinals as the Travs won 17 of 32 meetings with Springfield and also improved the Travs' record to 70-66 overall, just the third time in the 13 seasons of the Los Angeles Angels affiliation that the Travs reach at least 70 wins. Their second half record stands at 37-30, good for a three-game lead with three games remaining in the regular season.
Springfield was in a giving mood in the 32nd and final matchup between the two franchises during the 2013 season. The Cardinals committed three errors leading to three unearned runs including the tiebreaking runs in the seventh inning on a dropped throw at first base.
The Travs tallied their first run on a sacrifice fly by C.J. Cron in the third inning. Taylor Lindsey and Cyle Hankerd started the inning with consecutive singles putting runners at the corners for Cron, who drove in his 22nd run of the past 17 games with a line out to right field.
The only blemish on Batista's line came in the fifth inning when Starlin Rodriguez scored from third on an RBI groundout by Adam Melker. Batista hit Rodriguez with a pitch then walked Jake Lemmerman. Matt Williams sacrificed to set Melker with for his game-tying grounder.
The Travs scored the winning runs in the seventh inning after two outs with nobody on base. Lindsey and Hankerd worked walks from Zach Russell. Cron then hit a high chop that Russell fielded to the left of the mound. His throw was slightly high, and first baseman Xavier Scruggs had the ball momentarily before it slipped out allowing Lindsey to score from second base. Robbie Widlansky followed with an RBI single off left-handed pitcher Danny Miranda for a 3-1 lead.
A fielding error by Lemmerman on a Jett Bandy grounder opened the door in the eighth inning for Randal Grichuk's RBI single for a 4-0 lead.
Batista retired the last 12 Cardinals batters he faced and finished with three walks and two strikeouts. Springfield recorded just two hits off Batista.
David Carpenter came in for the ninth inning and saved the win (5) pitching around a walk and a single for a scoreless frame.
Russell (0-1) took the loss for the Cardinals who head home to finish the season with six straight losses.
The Texas League playoffs features two rounds that are both in a best-of-five format. The first round pits the Travs against the first-half North division champion Tulsa Drillers with the winner taking on the South division winner for the Texas League Championship.
The first round will begin at ONEOK Field in Tulsa with games one and two on Wednesday, September 4 and Thursday, September 5 at 7:05 p.m. The Travs host games three, four and five at Dickey-Stephens Park starting on Friday, September 6 at 7:10 p.m. The fourth game, if necessary, will be played at 12:10 p.m. on Saturday, September 7. A fifth-and-final game would start at 2:10 p.m. on Sunday, September 8.
The opening two games of the Texas League Championship Series begins in the South Division champion's ballpark on Tuesday, September 10 and Wednesday, September 11. Dickey-Stephens Park would host games three and four on Friday, September 13 and Saturday, September 14 at 7:10 p.m. A fifth-and-deciding game would be played at 2:10 p.m. on Sunday, September 15.