If you walked into Dickey-Stephens Park just before first pitch, it looked like a beautiful night for baseball. Just enough clouds, temperature hovering around 70 degrees and postgame fireworks on the way.
Mother Nature needed 15 minutes or so to get feisty and screw with everyone's Friday night plans.
Fortunately for the Arkansas Travelers, they were able to squeeze in 4 1/2 innings in North Little Rock -- just enough for the hosts to pick up a rain-shortened 4-0 victory against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The victory brought the Travs to .500 on the season after they dropped their first two games of this six-game set against the Naturals. Penn Murfee threw 3 2/3 innings of one-hit, shutout ball.
"That was about as sloppy of a surface as I've seen played on in a long time," Travs Manager Collin Cowgill said after rain came down over the final 3 1/2 innings. "But credit to all our guys for sticking it out. Both teams showed some real toughness."
Murfee, the Mariners' 33rd-round pick in 2018, had made one previous appearance with the Travelers in 2019 but spent the majority of that season with high-A Modesto. After pitching the final month of the 2020 season at Seattle's alternate site, the Mariners sent him back to Arkansas for some fine-tuning.
Although Murfee was on a pitch count -- Cowgill said he wasn't going to face another batter after 70 pitches -- he showed off a nasty curveball that hovered in the low-80s with some serious break. Several of his six strikeouts came via the spinner, but Murfee was unable to earn the victory as he did not complete the fourth inning.
"He dominated the zone -- that's our whole process, that's our whole mindset," Cowgill said of his starter. "He threw strike one. He was getting ahead, making his pitches, and he and [catcher Brian] O'Keefe were on the same page all night."
The Travs scattered their offense here and there, getting runs in each of the first two innings before tacking on two more in the third.
Jordan Cowan led off the bottom of the first with a double before advancing to third on a Connor Kopach bunt. He then scored on a wild pitch from Naturals starter Stephen Woods Jr.
Stephen Wrenn doubled the Travelers' advantage with a 409-foot laser just right of straightaway center, a solo home run that made it 2-0 after two.
With rain coming down and lightning all around the yard in the third, Cowgill got aggressive as the third-base coach. He sent Keegan McGovern home on a lightly-hit single to shallow right, and though the Travs' right fielder looked to be out by 10 feet, he slid under the tag of Northwest Arkansas catcher MJ Melendez.
Cowgill stayed aggressive the next batter, waving O'Keefe home from second on a bloop that landed just between the shortstop and center fielder.
That one didn't go as hoped as O'Keefe was comfortably thrown out, but Cowgill knew he was going to stick to his guns on the basepaths Friday.
"I played outfield for 13 years. It's hard to throw the ball [when it's wet]," he said. "We were running in this weather."
The Travs tacked on one more run when Dom Thompson-Williams smacked a two-out double the other way in the third for his first hit of the season.
The Naturals and Travs will go at it again tonight with a chance for both teams to guarantee themselves at least a series split.
ARKANSAS TRAVELERS VS. NW ARKANSAS NATURALS
WHEN 6:10 p.m.
WHERE Dickey-Stephens Park, North Little Rock
RADIO KARN-AM, 920, in central Arkansas
WEBSITES travs.com, nwanaturals.com
PITCHERS Travs: RHP Devin Sweet (first start of 2021); Naturals: RHP Alec Marsh (first start of 2021)
TICKETS $12 box (available in pods of 1, 2, 4, 6); $8 reserved (available in pods of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6); $6 general admission. Available only online at travs.com; no in-person sales.
PROMOTIONS Clear bag giveaway
TRAVS WEEK AHEAD
TODAY vs. NW Arkansas, 6:10 p.m.
SUNDAY vs. NW Arkansas, 2:10 p.m.
TUESDAY vs. Springfield, 11 a.m.
WEDNESDAY vs. Springfield, 7:10 p.m.
THURSDAY vs. Springfield, 7:10 p.m.
FRIDAY vs. Springfield, 7:10 p.m.
NATURALS WEEK AHEAD
TODAY at Arkansas, 6:10 p.m.
SUNDAY at Arkansas, 2:10 p.m.
TUESDAY vs. Tulsa, 7:05 p.m.
WEDNESDAY vs. Tulsa, 7:05 p.m.
THURSDAY vs. Tulsa, 7:05 p.m.
FRIDAY vs. Tulsa, 7:05 p.m.