Charlie Gillies has kept batters off-balance all season in becoming the Alaska Baseball League's leader in strikeouts.
Nothing changed Wednesday.
Gillies notched eight strikeouts and came within one strike of tossing a complete game, leading the Athletes in Action Fire to a 5-2 ABL victory over the Peninsula Oilers at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
The Oilers are nearing the ABL regular-season title with a record of 19-12, but missed a chance to move closer to the crown. Peninsula needs a combination of two wins or two Mat-Su Miners losses to clinch. Mat-Su sits in second at 17-15. The Anchorage Bucs hold third at 16-16 and would be eliminated from title contention with a loss or an Oilers win.
The Oilers, who have lost three straight, host the Fire at 6 p.m. today at Seymour Park for the second of a five-game series.
"We've just got say, ‘Look, this isn't who we are,'" Oilers assistant coach Kyle Richardson said following a performance in which Peninsula made four errors. "We need to get back on the horse. There's no need to panic."
The Oilers never figured out Gillies, who improved his league-leading strikeout total to 50 in throwing 124 pitches over 8 2-3 innings.
Throwing a heavy dose of sinkers and sliders, Gillies overcame sporadic command to send the Oilers to their second three-game losing streak this season.
The Fire built a 2-0 lead with runs in the second and third and Gillies took over from there, registering all but two of his outs on ground balls and strikeouts.
Although the right-hander walked six batters, he never faced serious trouble until the bottom of the ninth, when the Oilers scored once and got the tying run to the plate in Mike Miller.
"He was keeping the ball low with that sinker and getting a lot of grounders," said Peninsula's Nate Ring, who was 1 for 3 with a run. "He did a good job. Tip your cap to him."
This outing was a far cry from a June 24 contest in which the Oilers hammered Gillies for 13 hits and six runs in an 8-1 win.
Richardson said the sinker Gillies threw Wednesday was different than any pitch he featured in the June game.
The Fire were nearly perfect in the field, too, getting the lead runner on six different fielder's choices to thwart Peninsula's rallies.
Peninsula will open play Aug. 3 in the National Baseball Congress World Series, so Richardson said it's important for the club to stop the losing skid.
"It's tough to get in their heads, but the last thing you want is for the guys to feel pressure," Richardson said. "We just need to fix it right now."
John Maciel, who entered the contest with a 2-0 record and 0.81 ERA in 33 1-3 innings, took his first loss of the season in league play.
The right-hander never found a groove and was in trouble most of the evening, allowing at least one base runner every inning but the fourth. He lasted 5 1-3 innings, yielding eight hits and four runs. One of the runs was unearned.
Richardson said Maciel left a few pitches up in the strike zone, but for the most part was efficient.
"He didn't look any different," Richardson said. "He'll be fine."
Chris Mallory got the Oilers within 2-1 with a soft single up the middle to score Ring with two outs in the fifth, but that was as close as Peninsula would get.
A pair of errors led to two Fire runs in the sixth, and Maciel didn't make it out of the inning.
Patrick Wisdom let a grounder get between his legs after Tyler Shryock hit a leadoff single, putting runners on first and second. With runners on first and third after a Jerrod Eigsti fielder's choice, Maciel threw an attempted pickoff past first baseman Troy Channing, allowing Shryock to score from third.
Ryan Miller, who was 2 for 3 with two RBIs, then hit an opposite-field double down the line in right field to Eigsti for a 4-1 lead.
The lead ballooned to 5-1 before the Oilers mounted a rally in the ninth, scoring once before Mike Miller flew out to center field with runners on the corners to end the game.
The Fire finished with 11 hits. The Oilers, who have managed four runs over the three-game losing streak, had five hits and stranded eight runners on base.
"We just need to get a win," Ring said. "The offense has been a bit down."