The Midland RockHounds are now two wins away from winning back-to-back Texas League championships. The RockHounds beat the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, 5-2, in game one of the championship series behind an outstanding eight-inning outing by former Naturals lefty Sean Manaea.
Manaea was brilliant against the team he was pitching for when the Oakland A's acquired him from the Kansas City Royals in late July. Manaea threw exactly 100 pitches in his eight innings, allowing just two unearned runs on seven hits. He walked two and struck-out seven. Manaea threw 68 pitches for strikes and recorded 12 outs on the ground.
The RockHounds gave Manaea some early run support. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the third after two unearned runs were scored in the top half of the inning, the Midland offense evened the game against Naturals' starter Jonathan Dziedzic. Jaycob Brugman hit his third homer of the post-season to get the RockHounds on the board. Brugman has now homered in three straight games. He hit only six during the regular season, but he showed last season with High-A Stockton that he is capable of hitting homers in bunches. Later in the inning, the RockHounds would tie the game when Renato Nunez singled home Anthony Aliotti with two outs.
Midland would break the game open in the fourth inning with a three-run rally. The inning began with a Matt Olson double. Chad Oberacker moved Olson to third with a bunt and, after a Wade Kirkland walk, Olson would score during Bruce Maxwell's at-bat on a wild pitch. Maxwell also walked, ending Dziedzic's night. Brugman then walked to load the bases against new pitcher Malcom Culver. Culver would get Colin Walsh on a pop-up for the second out, but Aliotti gave the 'Hounds a big cushion with a two-out, two-strike single that scored two runs.
After that, it was the Manaea show through eight innings, as he breezed through the rest of his outing. He gave way to closer Brendan McCurry for the ninth. McCurry allowed two singles to bring the tying run to the plate, but he retired top Royals' prospect Raul Adalberto Mondesi on a groundout to secure the win and give the RockHounds a 1-0 series lead.
Midland takes on Northwest Arkansas again on Wednesday, with Chris Jensen taking the hill for the RockHounds against veteran right-hander Paul Clemens. The series is a best-of-five.