Thanks to Peninsula Oilers third baseman Patrick Wisdom, there were Fourth of July fireworks in Kenai this year.
Wisdom muscled a two-ball, one-strike fastball over the left-field wall for a grand slam and the decisive blow in the Oilers' 7-4 exhibition victory over the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks on Monday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
The shot fired up a Kenai crowd that is accustomed to seeing its major public fireworks display in the wintertime, when darker skies make for a better show.
The grand slam allowed the Oilers (14-7 overall) to take the rubber game of the three-game series against the Panners (19-4 overall), who are not playing in the Alaska Baseball League this season.
Even though the grand slam came in nonleague action, it may be just the thing to snap the Oilers from a midseason lull. Peninsula, which gets back into league play when it hosts the Anchorage Bucs at 7 p.m. Wednesday, had lost four of five heading into Monday's contest.
"They haven't been exactly pumped with the way they've been playing lately," Oilers head coach Dennis Machado said. "At some point, competitive players will make the decision that enough is enough.
"Sometimes, it takes longer than you would want. Today, one of the hitters in the middle of the order made that decision."
Before Wisdom's tater, the Oilers were not showing signs of breaking from their slump. Machado said the team was pressing early.
Oilers starter Justin Haley was dominant through the first three innings, facing the minimum and throwing just 28 pitches.
Then it took Haley 28 pitches to get through a fourth inning in which he gave up three runs. The Oilers defense didn't help matters. With two outs and runners on first and second, Matt Ivanoff sent a grounder to the hole on the right side of the infield.
Second baseman Chris Mallory didn't have a shot at getting the out at first, but if he gloves the ball cleanly Robbie Buller most likely doesn't score from second base. Kyle Geason then hit a high-hopper to third which Wisdom booted to extend the inning and load the bases.
Haley then walked in a run, and Andy Peterson lined a single to right to score Ivanoff. Peterson's single was easily the hardest hit ball of the inning, and that allowed right fielder Tanner Rust to end the inning by gunning down Geason at the plate.
"We are shooting ourselves in the foot, repeatedly," Machado said.
Meanwhile, the Oilers offense had just two hits through four innings against Pilots starter Brent Clapper. With his team trailing 3-0 entering the bottom of the fifth, Machado called a team meeting in front of the dugout.
According to Wisdom, Machado delivered the following advice: "This guy's got nothing but a fastball and slider. Pick one, and hit it."
The Panners opened the door to the big inning when Geason kicked a grounder to start the inning. The Oilers eventually loaded the bases with one out on a Mike Miller single. Clapper then got Chris Mallory, who finished with three hits and two RBIs, to fly out to shallow left and keep the bases loaded.
Panners head coach Jim Dietz then brought in Ryan Thompson to face Wisdom. In the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, Thompson - a lanky right-hander with a quirky sidearm delivery - had gotten Wisdom to fly out to center field.
"Patrick's a very smart hitter," Oilers assistant coach John Stevens said. "He notices the sequences a pitcher uses and takes advantage."
Wisdom said Thompson was trying to get him out with the same pattern of pitches that worked Sunday. When Thompson tried to sneak an inside fastball past Wisdom, Wisdom homered for the second time in three games.
The pitch was in enough on Wisdom's hands that he wasn't sure if it was gone.
"I was actually surprised to see it get out," said Wisdom, who would chase Thompson with a double in the sixth inning. "I was watching it the whole way and hoping it would go over the fence. I almost missed first base because of that."
The Oilers quickly widened the 4-3 lead. Thompson hit Troy Channing, then the burly first baseman scored from first on a double by Ryan McChesney.
In the sixth, Greg Anderson, who finished with two hits, started the inning with a single and then scored on a single by Mallory. Thompson, the loser, faced 10 batters, recorded three outs, and gave up three runs, six hits and two hit batsmen.
The Oilers, who got an insurance run in the eighth when Mallory singled to score Miller, got 11 hits on the day.
The Panners had just five hits, but that didn't mean they didn't make things interesting. After Haley walked three, reliever and winner Jordan Mills walked three in giving up a run in 3 2-3 innings. Mark Winkelman then walked two in 1 1-3 scoreless innings to notch the save.
"It could have been disastrous, but it wasn't," Machado said of the free passes. "That has to change. It will change."
Oilers 7, Panners 4
Panners AB R H BI Oilers AB R H BI
Pfau rf 2 0 0 0 Millr ss 4 2 1 0
Kppila dh 5 0 0 0 Mllry 2b 5 0 3 2
Bullr 1b 2 1 0 0 Wisdm 3b 4 1 2 4
Sldr pr 0 1 0 0 Chnng 1b 3 1 1 0
Doyle ph 1 0 0 0 MChsny dh 4 0 1 1
Bridgs 2b 4 1 2 0 Rust rf 3 0 0 0
Ivnoff lf 4 1 1 1 Reyes c 4 0 0 0
Geasn 3b 4 0 1 1 Andersn lf 4 2 2 0
Acker cf 1 0 0 1 Ring cf 4 1 1 0
Petersn ss 4 0 1 1 ---- -- -- -- --
Plaia c 4 0 0 0 ---- -- -- -- --
Totals 31 4 5 4 Totals 35 7 11 7
Alaska 000 300 010 -4
Peninsula 000 051 01X -7
E - Geason 2, Wisdom. DP - Panners 1, Oilers 1. LOB - Panners 8, Oilers 8. 2B - Geason, Bridges, Mallory, McChesney, Wisdom. HR - Wisdom. SB - Miller.
IP H R ER BB SO
Clapper 4 2-3 4 3 0 1 0
RThompson, L 1 6 3 3 0 0
Pentecost 1 1-3 0 0 0 0 1
Varriale 1 1 1 1 1 2
Haley 4 3 3 1 3 1
Mills, W 3 2-3 2 1 1 3 4
Winkleman, S 1 1-3 0 0 0 2 0
HP - by RThompson (Channing, Rust). PB - Reyes. T - 2:30.