After their narrow and dramatic defeat on Tuesday, the Soddies found themselves needing to win consecutive games in San Antonio to advance to the championship series, which will be against either Springfield or Arkansas. That series has gone in similar fashion, with Arkansas winning Game 1 and Springfield Game 2.
There were basically two stories of last night's game. First, Yilber Diaz not only continued his fine form since being promoted at the beginning of the month, but turned in what was in some ways his best performance. And that's saying something, since in his first three starts (two of which came against a fellow playoff team in Little Rock, and one of which came at Hodgetown) he worked 15 innings, gave up 1 home run, struck out 16, and walked 9. He really only struggled when facing the Travelers for the second time in a week.
First, though, he had to get through an uncomfortable first inning. A leadoff single was erased on a double play, but then Graham Pauley doubled for the Missions, bringing the offensive hero of Game 1, Nathan Martorella, to the plate. Diaz got him to ground out. Diaz gave up back-to-back singles in the second, but collected his first strike out to help him strand both runners. Things went better in the third, as he struck out two around a single. He finally worked a clean inning in the fourth, with two more strikeouts. Through five innings, he held the Missions scoreless, despite giving up 6 hits. He also struck out 6, and to that point had not walked anybody, which is particularly of note because walks have been his struggle (he walked 5.1 per 9 innings during the regular season in Hillsboro and Amarillo.)
Both the run of scoreless innings and the run of walk-free innings came to an end in the sixth, however, as, after recording his seventh and final strikeout of the game, he walked Martorella, who then scored on a double by Michael De La Cruz. Emailin Montilla came on an allowed the inherited runner to score.
However, by that point, the game already felt fairly comfortable, as Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio is considerably more forgiving to pitchers than is Hodgetown. After six innings, the Soddies led 6-2. This, despite being outhit 8-6. The difference was that the balls the Sod Poodles hit tended to leave the yard. Seth Beer had led off the second inning with a solo home run to open the scoring, a walk and an error had helped Amarillo to two more runs in the fourth, and Deyvison De Los Santos had delivered the big blow, a three-run shot in the fifth inning. Caleb Roberts would lead off the seventh inning with his third home run of the series, which would be both the final run and the final hit of the day for the Sod Poodles.
That 7-2 score held into the ninth, and with Christian Montes De Oca on the mound, things seemed somewhat comfortable. Unfortunately, he had a spate of wildness. He hit Homer Bush Jr. to lead off the inning, then gave up consecutive walks. That brought up the top of the order, but Montes De Oca recovered to get a pop out and a strikeout, and then was relieved by Jake Rice to get the platoon advantage. Rice gave up an infield single and a walk, but got De La Cruz to pop out to left field in what was a walk-off opportunity.
And so, the South Division championship will come down to one game, this evening in San Antonio. Yu-Min Lin will get the start for the Sod Poodles. It will be his third start of the season in San Antonio; the other two did not go particularly well, although he did leave the first start with a chance to collect the win. More problematic for the Sod Poodles is the fact that Montilla and Montes De Oca will not be available, and unless the Diamondbacks soften their normal rules for the playoffs, Rice will not be available either. So it's a shorter bullpen. Adam Mazur will get the start for the Missions. Best of luck to the Soddies tonight!