Thanks to a victory by Tulsa over Arkansas, the Redbirds are now 19-16, tied with Tulsa atop the North Division.
Already playing a man short, due to Brett Wallace's promotion to Triple-A Memphis, the Cards had to play through most of Saturday's game without catcher Steven Hill, who took a foul-tip off his bare right hand in the third inning. Hill's removal meant Tony Cruz had to move from third to catcher. The other two moves that followed weren't quite as routine, as center fielder Jim Rapoport entered the game at first base and first baseman Curt Smith moved to third base. Both were the first times that the two players had ever played those positions in their pro careers, respectively.
Cards' starter Brandon Dickson (2-3) was the victim of the struggling defense, as he allowed five runs on seven hits over five innings, but only two were earned runs.
Tyler Henley backed Dickson with his first career homer at the Double-A level, a shot to right field in the second, as Springfield took a 1-0 lead.
The Naturals got a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 2-1 lead. Cody Strait reached on a two-out error by Pete Kozma at shortstop, then scored on an RBI double by Jeff Howell. Howell would score on an RBI single by Chris McConnell.
The Cards got the equalizer in the fourth, as Curt Smith picked up his first Double-A hit, an RBI single to left which scored Daniel Descalso, tying the game at 2-2.
Northwest Arkansas took the lead for good in the home-half of the inning though, taking advantage of another Cardinals' error. After Dickson walked Ed Lucas to open the inning, Strait singled him to third. Howell followed with a sac fly to untie the game at 3-2. After a throwing error by Smith allowed runners to reach second and third, Joe Dickerson's ground ball plated another unearned run, making it 4-2.
An RBI double by Lucas scored McFall in the fifth, as the Naturals grabbed a 5-2 lead.
Springfield got a run in the sixth to make it 5-3, as Rapoport's RBI groundout plated Cruz.
The Naturals broke it open in the bottom of the sixth though, taking advantage of poor defense and a pair of walks from reliever Brad Furnish. Dickerson, Corey Smith and McFall all had run-scoring hits to break it open at 8-3.
That was as close as the Cards would get though, as they put the lead-off man aboard in both the eighth and ninth, but couldn't make anything happen against the Northwest Arkansas bullpen.
Victor Marte worked a scoreless ninth for his third save of the year.
After a day off on Sunday, the Cardinals will return to action on Monday, as they open an eight-game home stand at Hammons Field. The Arkansas Travelers will be first up for the Cards, with Tyler Herron (1-3) going to the mound for Springfield, while the Travs will counter with Trevor Reckling (3-0). Game time on Monday night in the series-opener is 7:10pm.
As part of the upcoming home stand, the Titanic Preview Trailer will be up from Branson, appearing at all eight games for fans to view. Other promotions include another AM Pyrotechnics Friday Night Fireworks Display on the 22nd, Triwest Military Thunderstick Giveaway and Mid-Missouri Credit Union Ft. Leonard Wood Appreciation Night on the 23rd and Henry's Towing Cardinals' Key Chain Giveaway on Sunday the 24th. Tickets are available by calling (417) 863-2143 or by visiting springfieldcardinals.com. We hope to see you at Hammons Field very soon...Escape to Cardinals Baseball!