A five-RBI day from Chris Mallory and a dominant effort from the bullpen pushed the Peninsula Oilers to a 5-4 victory over the Mat-Su Miners on Sunday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
The triumph puts the Oilers alone in first place in the Alaska Baseball League with an 11-6 record. The second-place Miners are now a game back at 12-9, while the Anchorage Bucs are 1 1-2 games back at 10-8. The Athletes in Action Fire are 8-11, while the Anchorage Glacier Pilots are 7-14.
With wins in the first two games of the series, the Oilers continue the four-game set tonight at 7 p.m. Ben Griset, who is 0-2 with a 3.12 ERA in league play, gets the start for the Oilers.
The Oilers are now winners of four straight, with each of those wins coming by a lone run.
Mallory finished 3 for 4 to collect all but two of the team’s hits and help Peninsula come back from a 4-1 deficit.
“When anybody in our lineup has a day like that, I’m happy, but I’m not surprised,” Oilers head coach Dennis Machado said. “I feel good about this group all through the lineup.”
Mallory gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a home run to left field.
That momentum quickly fizzled in the top of the second, when the Miners got to Oilers starter Justin Haley for three runs. Mat-Su loaded the bases when Mason Guymon singled on an 0-2 pitch.
The great two-strike hitting continued when Tim Zier drilled a 1-2 pitch through the right side of the infield to score Kevin Lum and Michael Suiter, and move Guymon to third.
Ryan Ford then hit a potential double-play grounder to second base. By beating out the throw from Mike Miller, Ford allowed Guymon to score.
When Haley walked Stephen Branca to start the third, Machado went to J.D. Salles. Although Salles allowed Branca to score on a single by Lum, his effort on the mound would help turn the game.
The winner pitched four scoreless innings and gave up just one hit while fanning two. Salles said he was spotting his fastball, and his slider started working in his second and third innings of work.
“We had one of our team leaders — Troy Channing — say in the third inning, ‘We are going to win this game,’” Salles said.
Mallory and the bullpen proved Channing prophetic.
In the bottom of third, Manny Reyes singled, Nate Ring walked and Mike Miller singled to load the bases with no outs for Mallory.
The second baseman smacked the first pitch he saw from Miners starter Mark Anderson to the gap in left-center field. All three runs scored, and Mallory was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple.
“I was just trying to put something good in play and help us get some runs back,” Mallory said.
Miners reliever and loser Ben Graff came on for Anderson in the fourth and, like Salles, did a good job of stanching the scoring. His lone hiccup was enough to decide the game.
With two outs in the fifth, Miller reached on an error by third baseman Cam Kneeland and went to second on a wild pitch. Mallory seized the moment again by working a full count and delivering the game-winning single.
“I knew he would have to bring me something because he didn’t want to walk me with (Patrick) Wisdom coming up,” said Mallory, who thanked host parents Michele and Jamie Peterson for all their support this season.
That one run would be enough for the bullpen.
After James Mannara got the first two outs of the seventh, Reese McGraw entered with a runner on first and struck out Branca. McGraw faced the minimum in the eighth and ninth innings, striking out Zier to punctuate a 14-strike, four-ball outing and earn the save in another close victory for the Oilers.
“When you’re winning close baseball games, you’re getting timely hitting, quality defense and quality pitching,” Machado said. “Regardless if it’s 3-2 or 10-9, at some point you’re going to have to stop them.”