Springfield outfielder Mike O'Neill entered Monday's game with Tulsa as one of the top hitters in the Texas League this season, but little of his damage had come at the expense of the Drillers. That changed with Monday's game as O'Neill finished with three hits and three runs scored and led the Cardinals to a 7-3 victory at ONEOK Field.
The defeat snapped Tulsa's two-game winning streak. The Drillers are now 2-3 on their current homestand with two games remaining.
O'Neill entered the game with a .316 batting average, the second highest mark in the Texas League. But against Tulsa, he was hitting only .254 in 63 at-bats.
His big night started quickly. In the top of the first, batting in the leadoff spot, O'Neill took two strikes before chopping the third pitch off the plate and up the third base line. Matzek raced off the mound and fielded the chopper before throwing wildly down the right field line. The hit and error allowed O'Neill to race to second. He eventually moved to third on a ground out before scoring the game's first run on a sacrifice fly from Ruben Gotay.
Luis Mateo doubled the lead for the Cards when he led off the second with his fifth home of the season. Cody Stanley followed the homer with a base hit. He moved to second on a balk, and after pitcher Jonathan Cornelius struck out, he came home to make it 3-0 on O'Neill second hit.
Dustin Garneau got the Drillers on the board in the fourth inning with a two-out solo home run. The liner into the terrace section in left field was the catcher's ninth homer of the season.
The Redbirds quickly got the run back in the top of the fifth, and O'Neill was again involved. The left fielder led off with his third hit of the night and scored on a one-out single by cleanup hitter Xavier Scruggs.
Tulsa cut its deficit back to two runs in the sixth when Jaron Shepherd led off with a double down the right field line. Shepherd moved to third on a ground out and scored on Kiel Roling's sacrifice fly.
But any hopes the Drillers had of a comeback ended in the seventh when the Cardinals scored three times without a hit. Reliever Ryan Buch walked the first four hitters of the inning to force in the first run. Buch got his first out on a force out at home, but he then issued his fifth walk to bring home a second run and end his night.
Joe Gardner came on and got a grounder from Mateo. The Drillers just missed an inning-ending double play, as the third run of the inning came home to make it 7-2. On the throw to first, Stephen Piscotty also tried to score on the play, but first baseman Roling's throw home was in time to record the third out of the inning.
Tulsa made things somewhat interesting in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. Tim Smalling's base hit brought home one run, but the Cards escaped the jam when Lee Stoppelman got a double play grounder from Delta Cleary Jr. that ended the game.
Matzek, who entered the game with a 4-1 record and a 1.43 ERA in the second half of the season, worked six innings for the Drillers. The left-hander surrendered four runs on seven hits. He has now worked at least six innings in 12 of his last 13 starts, dating back to May 18. The loss evened his record to 7-7.
Cards' starter Jonathan Cornelius pitched six innings to collect the win and improve his record to 3-5.
Tulsa out-hit Springfield 9-8 in the game. Shepherd, Garneau and Shepherd had two each.
The two teams will play the middle game of their three-game series Tuesday night at ONEOK Field. Chad Bettis (3-4, 3.71 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Drillers against Seth Blair (3-8, 4.73 ERA) of the Cardinals. Starting time will be 7:05PM.
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