The Peninsula Oilers were playing at home Thursday night following a dismal 1-5 Alaska Baseball League road trip.
Unfortunately for them, though, Anchorage Glacier Pilots head coach Dennis Machado also felt right at home.
Logan Darnell tossed six sparkling innings and the Glacier Pilots capitalized on an early error by the Oilers during their 2-0 victory at Coral Seymour Memorial Park, the first victory in Kenai for Machado, a former Oilers player and pitching coach currently on his first tour as a manager.
"No matter what, it's always good to come home," said Machado, a 1994 graduate of Kenai Central High School, where he set what was once the state's single-season rushing record as a running back on the Kardinals. "No matter where I'm at, Kenai will always be home. It's always good to be back."
It's even more fun when his team wins.
And he can thank Darnell for that, as the lefty overpowered Peninsula hitters all evening en route to a shutout over six innings of impressive work.
"Logan is outstanding," said Machado, who served as pitching coach for the Oilers the past two seasons, overseeing the best staff in the league last summer. "He's got great stuff, he's a competitive kid, he's a great kid, works hard. There's not enough good things I can say about him."
The loss is the fourth straight and seventh in eight games for the Oilers, who now sit at 4-8 overall and 1-6 in the ABL, three of those setbacks coming against the Pilots.
Thursday's affair continued a similar trend of tight games between these two squads, with both of the first two contests being decided by a single run. Anchorage captured a thrilling 7-6 victory on June 19 on a catcher's interference call in the bottom of the ninth and followed that the very next night with a 1-0 win in the bottom of the 11th.
"They have some physical hitters. You make a mistake and they're going to make you pay for it," said Machado, a member of the last Oilers team to capture the National Baseball Congress World Series title back in 1994. "So we go at them just like we go at anybody else, we try to make good pitches in good spots and go from there, try to be aggressive.
"Those guys can play. They have some talented players and you better bring your game if you're going to play them, especially here in Kenai," he added. "It's a tough place to play and those guys are going to be OK."
So far it's been a challenge, though.
Averaging nearly 10 strikeouts a game and having committed nine errors in their first six league games, all on the road, the Oilers' struggles continued Thursday.
Peninsula mustered just three hits, struck out eight times and committed a pair of errors, one leading to the eventual game-winning run.
The defending league champion Pilots (7-3 ABL) wasted no time in jumping on Oilers starter Kevin Rath, a lefty from Cal State Fullerton who arrived in town on Wednesday and was making his Peninsula debut just more than 24 hours later.
With two outs after a double play erased a game-opening single by Drew Heid, Rath walked Jason Coats before the Oilers defense failed them again.
Second baseman Ryan Fisher fielded a ground ball by Ricky Rossman but threw wildly to first in allowing Rossman to reach safely and Coats to move to second. Josh Meagher then followed with a bloop single to center, easily plating Coats with the only run Anchorage would need.
"You got to get runs any way you can get them here," Machado said. "You've got to capitalize on opportunities. Fortunately today we were able to do that."
Even without the blunder, though, Darnell never let the Oilers find a rhythm at the plate, something they've had difficulty accomplishing all season.
Darnell struck out the first two batters he faced before allowing back-to-back singles by Shayne Willson and Mark Tracy. Never wavering, he escaped the jam on a ground ball and hardly found himself in dire straits during the remainder of his outing.
Including the final out of the first, the southpaw retired seven straight Oilers and nine of 10 before allowing a leadoff single to Fisher to begin the fourth. After a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt from Marty Mullins advanced Fisher to second, Darnell literally worked his way out of near peril on his own.
He made a diving stab to his left on a grounder up the middle by Joe Kohan, checking Fisher at second and not allowing him to advance. Darnell then followed that with an even more impressive display of acrobatics when he charged a high grounder that bounced off the plate, straddled the first-base line and threw around Caleb Bushyhead in midair to escape unscathed.
Rath, who struck out two and walked two, settled down in the second and third innings, allowing just one hit and a walk before exiting his first start after three innings and 54 pitches.
Right-hander Cody Kendall delivered a strong performance in relief of Rath, allowing one run on four hits and a walk over six innings of work. He worked his way out of a jam in the sixth when a first-pitch, pinch-hit double to the right-field wall by Geoff Klein was erased with a pair of ground-outs. But he wasn't so lucky in the seventh.
A leadoff single by Manny Reyes came back to haunt him as Reyes took second on a hit-and-run single to left by Anthony Hutting and scored on a double-play ground-out by Trevor Hairgrove.
Matt Larkins picked up right where Darnell left off, striking out the side in seventh, two on called third strikes, and retiring the side in order in the eighth.
DJ Mauldin then required merely 11 pitches to sit down the final three Oilers in the ninth.
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