Peninsula Oilers manager Tom Myers isn't discouraged.
He's just hoping his players aren't, either.
"If these guys, which they are, they're smart and talented, if they can learn that they're gaining something from this, that's going to benefit them over the duration of the season, then we're going to be just fine," Myers said following his team's 2-1 setback to the visiting Mat-Su Miners on Wednesday night. "It's tough to be two under .500 at this point, but we've got to come out tomorrow ready to play."
At least the Miners (8-2, 4-2 ABL) will be out of town by then.
Behind a fifth-inning rally off Oilers reliever Jarryd Summers, who replaced starter Ross Humes when the lefty was hit with a line drive on his right leg and exited after 2 1/3 perfect innings, the Miners improved to 3-1 against the Oilers this season, three of those games coming by a 2-1 score.
"I'm trying to stress to our guys that it's a long season," Myers explained. "Yeah, we're in conference and losing two at home like this to a conference foe is going to be tough to make up. We've got to do it tomorrow. We've got to come out tomorrow and put some pressure on the opposition."
The Oilers have been doing that lately.
Unfortunately, though, that pressure hasn't come until there were already two outs in the ninth inning.
In Tuesday's 2-1 loss, P.J. Sequierra singled with two down and pinch-runner Daniel Boyle stole second, but Kawika Emsley-Pai, playing his first game for Peninsula, grounded out to first to end the game.
Wednesday wasn't much different.
Anthony Aliotti opened the ninth with a line out to center fielder Pat Minogue, who ranged to his left before making a spectacular diving stab, and Francis Larson grounded out, resting the game squarely on the shoulders of Emsley-Pai again.
This time, after jumping ahead in the count 2-0 before Charles Ruiz caught him looking at a pair of strikes, Emsley-Pai took one more ball, an inside curveball, before lining a single to right field in preserving the game.
In stepped Kyle Mihaylo, also making his first appearance as an Oiler. He fell behind 0-2 after watching two sharp curves fall in for strikes. But the newcomer kept the game going when he blooped a single to left field, moving Boyle, who was pinch running again, over to second.
"I'm encouraged that we've got a couple additions in our lineup and they both produced tonight," Myers said. "That's going to, I think, give us more confidence on the offensive end."
Garry Kuykendall, who hasn't played since June 16, a span of seven games, pinch hit for Bryan Horst (0-for-3) because Myers wanted the left-handed bat at the plate, and grounded out on the first offering from Ruiz as the Oilers fell to 11-4 overall on the season.
"What happened in that last half an inning? They got ahead on every guy. So, we're having to fight, we're having to fight, and it seems like we're getting in those two-strike counts a lot," Myers pointed out. "I'm hoping we're in more 3-1, 2-1 counts, then our guys can be better hitters. They had eight or nine opportunities to be in leverage counts. When a hitter's in a leverage count or a pitcher has leverage, they're that much better."
Miners starter Max Peterson, a bulky left-hander, dominated through six innings, allowing just two hits and one run, while walking one and striking out four.
Trailing 2-0 after Summers surrendered both runs in the fifth on a hit batter, a double and two singles, the Oilers sliced the deficit in half in the sixth.
Sequierra opened the frame with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and came home on Ryan McCurdy's double down the left-field line. With McCurdy tagging to third on a pop out by Jeremy Gould, Anthony Aliotti struck out, stranding the tying run 90 feet from home.
The Oilers squandered another opportunity in the seventh when Emsley-Pai followed Larson's strike out with a double, but Jeremy Atkins fanned Mihaylo and Horst to quell the threat.
The eighth inning brought another golden opportunity for the Oilers, as Tre Dennis walked with one out, moved to second on an errant pickoff attempt by Garrett Richards -- who was consistently hitting 94 and 95 MPH with his fastballs -- and stole third, sliding in head first ahead of the throw.
But Richards retired McCurdy on an easy ground out and then induced Gould to ground out to second baseman John Shaffer, who darted into shallow right field to make a nifty grab and a perfect but difficult throw to first.
"Two strikes, two outs, and their second baseman ranges far into the four-hole and throws the guy out," Myers marvelled. "If he doesn't come up with that ball, it's a tie game."
Even with their third consecutive loss, dropping them to 2-4 in Alaska Baseball League play, including being outscored 6-5 in four games against Mat-Su, Myers is convinced things will turn around.
And he's hoping it begins at 7 p.m. today when the Oilers hosts the Anchorage Bucs in the first of a two-game set.
"Our pitching's been good, our defense has been good. Now the offense will start to produce. I'm convinced they're going to start to produce," he said. "We're getting opportunities. They might not be favorable opportunities, but we're going to get a bleeder. It's going to happen at some point. And I think once we get those bleeders, it's going to start to be an avalanche. It's going to work in our favor and we're going to start getting some momentum."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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