There's a reason why Garry Kuykendall is planted atop the Peninsula Oilers lineup.
On Saturday, he showed the fans why.
Hit by pitches in his first three at-bats, Kuykendall swiped three bases and scored twice, while four Peninsula pitchers allowed only two hits in leading the Oilers to a 4-2 win over the Southern California Running Birds on a pleasant evening at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
"I don't think I've ever been hit three times before," Kuykendall said. "But I'll take it."
Batting at the top of the order throughout the first five games this season, all wins, the center fielder from Washington State University has now reached base 10 times and scored on seven of those occasions. He's also stolen eight bases.
"They know that he's going to try to bunt. They know that he's a guy, that once on base, is going to wreak havoc. And sure enough he did that tonight early and that's what led to our W," said Oilers manager Tom Myers. "Especially with him on base, it changes things. Hitters in the two-hole, three-hole, are going to see more fastballs when Garry and Tre (Dennis) get on base.
"So, I think over the long haul, we're going to see some better offensive production because they're going to be getting fastballs to hit, so their catchers have a chance to throw some people out."
Friday wasn't much different, either, as the Oilers eked out a 1-0 nailbiter behind a first-inning run created by their patented aggressive baserunning.
Kuykendall opened the bottom of the first with a walk, stole second and advanced to third when SoCal catcher James Davis' throw to second traveled into center field. He then scored on a passed ball minutes later.
Peninsula's pitching then made the lead stand up as starter Will Currier (four innings), Justin Anderson (two) and Brandon Berl (two) allowed just four hits and one walk before flamethrower Seth Harvey recorded the save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, topping 90 MPH on nearly every fastball.
"In the end pitching and defense is what's going to win championships," Myers said following Friday's victory. "That cliche has been said a million times but if that's the mentality we're going to have, it could be a real fun season."
Saturday's game followed the exact same trajectory.
Kuykendall was hit by a Brandon Pinder offering to open the first, took second on a sacrifice bunt by Dennis and scored on a Vince Belnome sac fly to left fielder Travis Leversen, who dropped the ball, allowing Belnome to reach second. Following a walk to P.J. Sequierra, Jeremy Gould smacked another sac fly, this time to right fielder Derek Eligio, who also dropped the ball, allowing Belnome to come home with the Oilers' second run.
Another walk to Anthony Aliotti loaded the bases for Currier, who hit into a fielder's choice that scored Sequierra to make it 3-0. The Oilers then tacked on another run in the second when Kuykendall was beaned for the second time, moved to second on Dennis' first base hit of the season and then stole third as Dennis nabbed second, two of seven steals for the Oilers on the evening. But nobody was covering second as catcher Jason Laws' throw came down and the ball sailed into center field as Kuykendall walked home.
"I think in leadoff, on at the beginning of an inning is definitely huge, especially that first leadoff run is huge," Kuykendall said. "I get on and I can steal bases. I think that's huge."
Meanwhile, Ross Humes took over for the Oilers.
A hard-throwing lefty, Humes required only 51 pitches to get through four impressive innings, allowing only four baserunners, two on walks, one on an error and the fourth on a dropped third strike.
With one down in the fifth, though, he walked Bryan Patterson and surrendered a double to Eric Rodriguez before giving up a two-run single to Brendon Pesante that sliced the deficit two 4-2.
"Ross did a good job. He tired toward the fifth, which is understandable," Myers said. "Today we lengthened him out. This next start, we're hopefully going to get more pitches out of him, get his pitch count higher."
Kevin Matsumoto, a member of the 2006 Oilers, relieved Humes with two outs in the fifth and induced Eligio to fly out to left. He then cruised through the sixth, needing just 10 pitches to retire Kyle Hardman, Casey Rihn and Mitch Blackburn, all on pop outs.
Bryce Uhrig then picked up where Matsumoto left off, working a 1-2-3 seventh and Erik Draxton picked up the save with six straight outs to close out the Oilers' fifth straight win.
"We stole seven bases and those are the things that we're going to continue to do," Myers said. "We made a couple outs being aggressive and that's also going to happen. Sometimes when you have the house money, which is having the lead, you can do certain things and we've been fortunate that our pitchers have responded with zeros. If we continue with that, then it allows us to do more things offensively as well."
Following a 17-7 shellacking of the San Francisco Seals on Wednesday, the Oilers last three wins have come by three, one and two runs, respectively, proving they can win the close ones.
"Winning those tight ones early will give our guys confidence when we might be on the other end of a tight one late in a game, knowing, 'Hey, we've been here before, we know how to win,'" Myers explained. "I really like our guys' effort. They've come here to the yard every day since we've been here businesslike. They know what we need to do as a team in this ballpark to be successful, and that's get on base, run the bases aggressively."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
Oilers 1, Runningbirds 0
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