Naturals broom Travelers out of town
09/03/2010 11:21 PM ET
By Frank Novak / Northwest Arkansas Naturals

SPRINGDALE, AR- The Arkansas Travelers probably can't leave Northwest Arkansas fast enough, as they were beat for the 25th time this season by the surging Naturals, who picked up the 5-1 win Friday evening at Arvest Ballpark.

Blake Johnson (5-3) carried a shutout into the seventh as he continued his roll of success. The Naturals' franchise leader in both wins and starts, Johnson allowed just six hits and a walk in six-plus frames. He fanned six and was helped by his defense and some awful baserunning by the rally-killing Travelers, who had two runners picked off on the bases and another caught stealing.

With the win, Northwest Arkansas (42-25, 84-53) has now won more games in a single season than the franchise's predecessor, the Wichita Wranglers ever did as a Kansas City Royals affiliate. The 1999 Wichita Wranglers won 83 games, and then won the Texas League Championship. Wichita had served as Kansas City's Double-A affiliate since the 1995 season.

The Naturals clinched this four-game sweep using primarily the longball. Four different Naturals hit solo homers on a cool evening that featured nary a breeze. Eric Hosmer's fourth inning blast off Travs' starter Michael Anton (5-12) started the home run barrage, for Hosmer, it was his 13th as a Natural. It continued in the bottom of the fifth when Jamie Romak's sixth home run in a Naturals uniform landed out in the party deck past left field.

After the Travelers (27-40, 53-84) scratched out a run in the seventh on an RBI single by Roberto Lopez, the Naturals answered right back in the bottom of the frame when Clint Robinson launched a leadoff solo shot to right. It was the 29th home run on the season for Robinson, who now owns the Naturals' franchise home run record in addition to the single-season mark which he reached in late August. One out later Paulo Orlando drilled a 1-1 pitch from Anton on a line long past the left field bullpen.

That put the Naturals up 4-1 and chased Anton, who, despite the four homers, didn't pitch nearly as poorly as the other Travelers starters during the series. He lasted 6 1/3, allowing five hits and four runs while striking out four and walking one. Jeremy Berg relieved and allowed a two-out single to Jamie Romak, who moved to second on a walk and scored when Travelers outfielder Jeremy Moore took a bad route on Derrick Robinson's fly ball and had to knock it down over his head.

It was just one of a long line of miscues in the series for the Travelers, who ran themselves out of rallies and even when they didn't, failed to get any big hits. North Little Rock actually was the first team to get a runner to third in Friday's game. Andrew Romine singled to start the frame, moved to second on a balk and to third on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Rian Kiniry. But Johnson got Efren Navarro swinging and retired Roberto Lopez on a harmless groundout to end the frame.

The Travs didn't get another runner to third until the seventh, and, even though they cut the Naturals lead to 2-1, their baserunning mistake cost them a runner. Ben Swaggerty had come on to replace Johnson with nobody out and two on, and on Swaggerty's first pitch, Naturals' catcher Manny Pina picked off Navarro, the lead runner, taking a leisurely lead off second. Swaggerty then fanned Jeremy Moore and Abel Nieves looking. Patrick Keating pitched a scoreless eighth and worked around a pair of walks issued in the ninth.

The Naturals now head into their final regular season series of the season, and it comes with some intrigue, as the Tulsa Drillers sit just three games behind the surging Naturals in the second half standings. That means that if the Drillers managed a three-game sweep of Northwest Arkansas, they would earn the second-half playoff spot and meet the Naturals next week in round one of the Texas League Playoffs. One loss, and the Naturals win the second half, eliminating the Drillers and giving the second North Division spot to Springfield on the basis of the Cards having a better overall record than Tulsa.

So, this must-win series for Tulsa begins Saturday at 1:00 P.M. Left-hander Mike Montgomery (5-3, 3.53) will try and rebound from a poor start in Tulsa last Monday as the Drillers counter with right-hander Cory Riordan (7-5, 4.13).

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. The Naturals have a toll-free ticket hotline (1-877-444-2637) for fans to purchase Naturals tickets. Our website, offers fans the opportunity to purchase tickets online and avoid lines at the ticket windows by printing their tickets at home or at the office.