A walkoff check-swing grounder back to the pitcher doesn't exactly have a nice ring to it. But the Peninsula Oilers are a team that fell victim to a walkoff wild pitch on a strikeout in the 21st inning earlier this year. They're not about to get picky.
The Oilers rallied for two runs in the ninth inning to defeat the Chugiak Chinooks 5-4 on Friday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
"It was ugly, but at this point we'll take wins any way we can get them," Oilers head coach John Stevens said. "As ugly as that was, it's one that brings the clubhouse together."
Peninsula has been willing to try anything to change its fortune, up to and including mullets. Trey Richardson went with one before Thursday's game and since then the Oilers are 2-0 and Richardson, after going 3 for 4 with a run and two RBI on Friday, is hitting .556.
"We've had a lot of games that didn't go our way," Richardson said. "It was nice to have a game go our way."
Peninsula remains in second place in the ABL with a 12-9 record, a half game behind the Anchorage Glacier Pilots. The Chinooks are 10-9 and in third place, 1 1-2 games out.
The Oilers and Chinooks conclude their four-game series tonight at 7 p.m. at Seymour Park.
Peninsula had 11 hits in Friday's game, but managed the winning run in the ninth inning without hitting the ball out of the infield.
The Chinooks turned the game over in the ninth to Jacob Howell, who had not allowed a run in six previous appearances.
Howell was fighting off an illness, but Chinooks head coach Jon Groth said that was not the reason for the rally.
"He was a little under the weather, but if we felt it was anything he couldn't handle, we wouldn't have put him out there," Groth said. "Warming up, all his pitches were fine."
Howell immediately found trouble, walking Nate Ring on four pitches to start the inning, then throwing wildly to first on a pickoff attempt to put Ring at third. Jake Alvarez walked to put runners on first and third.
With the infield in, Jordon Hein grounded out to shortstop. Ring stayed at third and Alvarez moved to second.
Josh Miller then hit a slow, bounding ball down the third-base line. Third baseman Stockton Taylor attempted to barehand the ball, then the ball rolled foul. Ring scored to tie the game on the play, while Alvarez moved to third.
Groth came out to argue, saying Taylor didn't touch the ball and it should have been a foul ball.
Next up, Alex Staehely also swung at the first pitch he saw, sending a check swing back to Howell. Howell fielded the ball cleanly, and initially made the move to throw Staehely out at first.
But that would have only been the second out, allowing the winning run to score. Realizing this, Howell quickly spun and tried to throw out the speedy Alvarez at home, but it was too late.
"We were capable of making all those plays in the ninth inning," Groth said. "We just didn't execute."
The bottom of the ninth inning represented a quick turn of events on more than the scoreboard. Up to that point, it had been the Oilers defense that was leaking runs, and the Chinooks defense that was coming up with great plays to keep runs off the board.
The Oilers took a 1-0 lead in the first when Hein scored on a single by Richardson, then Oilers starter Michael Coates kept the Chugiak offense off the board for the first four innings.
Brandon Kizer relieved in the fifth in his first action after a foot injury. He gave up three runs and three hits — including a two-RBI double by Steven Karkenny — in the inning. But only one of those runs was earned due to an error by third baseman Alvarez.
After Nate Ring was cut down trying to steal home in the bottom of the fifth, the Chinooks stretched the lead to 4-1 in the top of the sixth. Kristopher Kwak, who was 3 for 4 with two RBI, singled home Taylor after the inning was prolonged on an error by second baseman Miller.
Straka and Nigel Nootbaar, the eventual winner, then combined to keep the Chinooks hitless over the final three innings so the Oilers could make the comeback.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Oilers cut the lead to 4-2 when Richardson scored on a wild pitch.
Staehely started the eighth with a single against reliever Ryan Sullivan, then Richardson chased Sullivan with a double that scored Staehely for a 4-3 game.
Reliever Kelby Deerman came on and retired the next two batters while keeping Richardson at second. Jeff Yamaguchi then worked the count to full and saw seven pitches before singling to the opposite field. Richardson was cut down at the plate when right fielder Kwak threw to first baseman Adam Humes, who threw a strike to catcher Chris Matthews.
Even though Richardson was thrown out, Stevens said the at-bat by Yamaguchi was a good sign.
"We're starting to do the right things with men on base more often than we were during that stretch after the first week," Stevens said.
And the fact that the winning run scored on a check swing on the first pitch, which Stevens said is not the right thing to do with the winning run on third base?
Well, that's just baseball.
"We walked off on them at our place and now they walked off on us at their place," Groth said. "The cool thing about baseball is we play against them again tomorrow and it's 0-0 when the game starts."
In addition to Richardson's three hits, Hein, Miller and Ring had two hits for the Oilers. Stevens said Richardson's work is paying off.
"He's been working early every day," Stevens said. "The guys that spend the extra time in here, those are the guys that have success."
Humes had a pair of hits for the Chinooks.
Oilers 5, Chinooks 4
Shlds dh4100Hein lf4120
Kwak rf4032Millr 2b5021
Klmr cf5010Sthly ss5111
Humes 1b4120Rchsn 1b4132
Krknny lf4012Delph rf3000
DTrbn 2b3000Hnzr c4000
Tylr 3b4110Kch dh2000
Mtthws c4000Ymgchi dh2010
Shryck ss4110Ring cf3120
E — Howell, Miller, Alvarez. DP — Chinooks 1. LOB — Chinooks 8, Oilers 9. 2B — Kwak, Karkenny, Shryrock, Hein, Richardson, Ring. SF — Kwak. SH — Shields. SB — Shields, Alvarez. CS — Ring.
WP — Dirks, Coates. PB — Matthews.