With the grueling road trips of the Alaska Baseball League, a sterling home record is nearly a must for league champions. The Peninsula Oilers staged a textbook defense of Coral Seymour Memorial Park on Sunday in a 3-1 league victory over the Anchorage Bucs.
With rain periodically spitting from a murky sky and a wind ripping from left field to right field at the park which has yielded only one home run this season, Oilers hurlers pounded the strike zone, throwing 73 of 93 pitches for strikes and issuing no walks. The Oilers offense needed to hit the ball out of the infield only once in producing the game-winning, three-run rally in the seventh. The Oilers defense played an errorless game and right fielder Jeremiah Mejia threw out Sean Ratliff at home to end the second inning.
All of it added up to an 11-0 start at home for the Oilers and a 3-0 mark in the league. Peninsula will look to sweep Anchorage (9-3, 1-3) in the final game of the four-game set today at 7 p.m. On Wednesday, the Oilers embark on a nine-game road trip their first away games of the season.
“In the Alaska league, when you go on the road, it can be some tough going,” Oilers coach Daniel Boyle said. “It’s important that you defend your home field. I felt like we did a good job of that today.”
That defense started with Oilers starter Matt Thomson, who engaged in a pitching duel with the Bucs’ Donald Brandt. Thomson was ahead of hitters all day, throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 25 he faced, and also throwing 56 of his 74 pitches for strikes.
“Thomson pitched his butt off, to be honest,” Boyle said. “If our starters can do that every time, we’ll be fine in Alaska.”
Thomson gave up just four hits. Two of those came in the second, when Mejia’s assist and catcher Jim Pollack’s road block at the plate kept the Bucs off the board. The other two came in the sixth, when Ratliff and Tom Mendonca, who have the best batting averages for the Bucs, had back-to-back doubles to give Anchorage a 1-0 lead.
“I just missed my spots for a few batters,” said Thomson, who struck out six and is now 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA. “In this league, they’ll make you pay for that.”
With the way Brandt was pitching, Thomson very well could have paid for that with a hard-luck loss. Brandt threw 57 of his 88 pitches for strikes and, according to Oilers first baseman Nick Goins, kept the club off-balance by throwing offspeed pitches when he was behind in the count.
After a single by Toby Davis in the first inning, Brandt retired the next 16 batters he faced to cool off the Oilers, who had been hitting .324 as a team heading into Sunday.
The Oilers resorted to small ball in the seventh. Michael Dabbs led off with a well-placed bunt that Brandt fielded and threw wildly to first for a two-base error. With the infield in expecting a bunt, Davis pulled the bat back at the last second and slapped a grounder between the third baseman and shortstop. Shortstop Shan Sullivan fielded the ball but his throw was late, leaving runners on first and second.
The Bucs then tried to use an infield shift to get the lead runner at third, but Mejia’s bunt was deadened perfectly in front of the plate and the bases were loaded.
On just the fourth pitch of the inning, Goins laced a soft liner to center to score Dabbs, tie the game and keep the bases juiced.
“I just wanted to hit the ball back up the middle,” Goins said. “Even if I hit into a double play, I knew a ball up the middle would tie the game.”
After Brandt recorded his eighth strikeout of the game by punching out Robert Lundy, Jim Pollack came back from a 1-2 hole to record an eight-pitch walk and force home the lead run. After Brandt was lifted, Juan Martinez grounded out against Scott Carpenter to give the Oilers a 3-1 lead.
The Oilers bullpen took it from there. John Dunn threw a no-nonsense, perfect eighth, striking out two while zinging 10 of 11 pitches for strikes. In the ninth, Erik Wetzel started with a bunt single against closer Paul Smyth, but Smyth came back to record a strikeout and game-ending double play. Seven of Smyth’s eight pitches were strikes.
“Our bullpen has been fantastic all year,” Thomson said. “It’s a great feeling knowing you’ve got guys like that to hand the ball off to.”
Oilers 3, Bucs 1
Bucs AB R H BI Oilers AB R H BI
Wetzel 2b 4 0 1 0 Buss cf 3 0 0 0
Schafer cf 4 0 0 0 Melton 2b 3 0 0 0
Jacobo dh 3 0 0 0 Younger ph 1 0 0 0
Morgan rf 3 0 0 0 Dabbs dh 4 1 1 0
Ratliff lf 3 1 2 0 Davis 3b 4 1 2 0
Mendonca 3b 3 0 1 1 Mejia rf 3 1 1 0
Calfee 1b 3 0 1 0 Goins 1b 3 0 1 1
Sullivan ss 3 0 0 0 Lundy lf 3 0 0 0
Lucchesi c 1 0 0 0 Pollack c 2 0 0 1
Ullrich ph 1 0 0 0 Martinez ss 3 0 0 1
Afenir c 0 0 0 0 ---- -- -- -- --
Totals 28 1 5 1 Totals 29 3 5 3
Anchorage 000 010 000 1
Peninsula 000 000 30x 3
E Brandt. DP Oilers 1. LOB Bucs 3, Oilers 5. 2B Ratliff, Mendonca. SB Ratliff. CS Lucchesi.
IP H R ER BB SO
Brandt, L (1-1) 6 1-3 6 3 1 1 8
Carpenter 1 2-3 0 0 0 1 1
Thomson, W (3-0) 7 4 1 1 0 6
Dunn 1 0 0 0 0 2
Smyth 1 1 0 0 0 1
HBP by Thomson (Jacobo, Lucchesi).
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