Most evenings, Dickey-Stephens Park is far from hitting paradise. No one, not even the old ones, really knows why.
Maybe it’s the wind blowing on the Arkansas River which is just a few hundred yards behind the right field gates. Or maybe it’s the spacious outfield with deep power walkways.
That was far from the case on Friday night as the Arkansas Travelers and Tulsa Drillers combined to pitch six home runs at North Little Rock. While the Travs managed three of six blasts, that wasn’t enough to overcome an otherwise slow offensive outing, losing 7-3 with just five hits and 14 strikeouts on the night.
The loss, which dropped the Travs to 12-9, marked the first time they’ve lost more than two in a row. It was the fifth game in a row in which they failed to score more than three points.
“You are going to have these [stretches]. That’s the beauty of this game, ”said Travs wide receiver Brian O’Keefe. There will be times when you get slides like this, there will be times when you win 10, 12 in a row. The most important thing is to make sure that we follow our process and our plan. When we get away from it, that’s when you see stuff like that. “
O’Keefe started the home runs late in the second, sending a solo shot into the deepest part of the park in the center-right.
The Drillers responded with back-to-back jacks in the next half-inning – the first of which sent Travs center fielder Connor Lien into the Tulsa relieving pen.
Tulsa went 3-1 in the fourth when Jacob Amaya went to the yard, then added three more in the fifth as the Drillers knocked down Travs starter Penn Murfee with four straight singles, ending the left-hander’s night after 4 2/3 sleeves of work.
Although Murfee struck out 6 and only scored one, the 3 homers and 6 runs on 8 hits brought his ERA to 6.75 for the season as the Mariners’ 33rd round pick in 2018 suffered his first defeat.
“Our goal is to throw balls into the area and swing them,” said Collin Cowgill, manager of Travs. “Get quick withdrawals on 0-0 and 0-1 accounts, and when we do that we’re good. When we don’t, we’re not very good.”
O’Keefe attributes much of the recent Travs struggles to a bad approach to the plate. One of only two Arkansas non-circuit hits came via a single from Bobby Honeyman to lead the fifth.
Two of the next three hitters struck out, blocking him early, and the only runner in goal position the rest of the night was Honeyman, who doubled up in the corner of left field with two on the outside in the bottom of the ninth.
It doesn’t help that just four Travs in Friday’s lineup have hit better than .250 this season.
“They have really good arms which we saw the first two nights,” O’Keefe said of the offensive woes. “I don’t think we’ve done each other a favor on the set. We lose our approach too often and have a hard time getting back to it. … When you have so many biffs and so little traffic on the base paths, they are there and very comfortable.
“It’s hard to score points when you live and die on solo circuits, so collectively as an offense we just have to stick with our approach and be a little more disciplined in the box.”