How toilsome was the Oilers' 10-game, seven-day road trip to Fairbanks, which ended on Wednesday?
Peninsula Oilers shortstop Tyler Grimes was fielding questions after the Oilers' 4-3 victory over the Bucs on Friday night at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
The game had been played in temperatures in the low 50s and intermittent showers. In the seventh inning, Grimes had slipped coming around third and was thrown out at home.
In the fourth inning, the graveyard that is center field at Seymour Park robbed Grimes of extra bases and even possibly a home run when he -- in his words -- got all of a ball only to have Bucs center fielder Bret Atwood haul in the blast doing a passable impression of Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series.
It was one of four balls the Oilers hit on Friday that Oilers assistant Dan Lemon said would have been home runs in Fairbanks.
Despite the cold, rain and outfield walls harder to clear than Gulf Coast beaches, Grimes made it clear he did not leave his heart in the Golden Heart City. Fairbanks has an average high temperature of 73 in July, compared to 62 for Kenai.
"It's good to be back home and not in Fairbanks," said Grimes, who was 1-for-2 with two runs and an RBI. "That trip took a lot out of us -- playing so many games in so many days.
"A lot of us aren't used to no air conditioning and having to sleep with the windows open."
Oilers coach Dennis Machado said the dorms in Fairbanks are nice, but with windows on just one side, breezes are hard to come by -- at least for those who aren't crafty veterans of such trips. Machado said he locked up a corner room, where windows in two walls gave him at least some breezy respite.
After the victory Friday, the Oilers were 17-11 in the Alaska Baseball League -- 4-6 in Fairbanks and 13-5 everywhere else.
In order to start the three-game set against the Bucs and the five-game homestand off on the right foot, the Oilers had to withstand a little drama in the top of the ninth.
Peninsula brought in closer Jorge Marban, who had walked just three in 15 1-3 innings, to preserve a 4-2 lead. Marban said he struggled to find his release point and promptly walked Eddie Rohan. Su Wei-Ta, the only player on either team to collect two hits, then doubled to put the tying run on second with no outs.
Next up was Chris Serritella, who had defied physics in managing to clout a ball through the cold, rainy air for a home run to right field in the fourth. Serritella worked a full count on Marban, but Marban struck him out with a fastball.
"I knew I needed a fly ball on the infield or a strikeout," Marban said. "The last thing I wanted was the bases loaded with no outs."
Next, the Peninsula defense came to the fore. Zach Vincej grounded to the hole at short. Grimes fielded and made the risky look routine by throwing to third baseman Garrett Wittels, who tagged Wei-Ta for the second out as Rohan scored for a 4-3 game.
"Grimes made a true baseball player's play," Machado said. "The ball took him that way and Garrett was on the other end."
Marban said having a runner on first, as opposed to on third, was a relief because now a wild pitch or passed ball would not mean a tie game. With that peace of mind, he struck out Dominic Piazza to end the game.
"Our defense is good," Marban said. "As a pitcher, it's always good to know that your defense will back you up."
Wittels led the defensive effort with four assists and four putouts, including a short-hop lasso of a screamer off the bat of Sullivan to end the Bucs' half of the eighth.
The Bucs went on top in the first off of Oilers starter Cody Kendall, who would go on to improve his record to 3-1. Anchorage smacked three of its seven hits in the first, including a Wei-Ta single that scored Sullivan.
The Oilers came right back in the bottom of the first off of Bucs starter and loser Mark Joukoff. Grimes led off with a single and moved to third on a stolen base and an error. Ryan Gebhart then walked.
"He swings the bat well for us, so it's good to start off with him," Machado said of Grimes, who was hitting .315 coming into Friday's game. "Then Gebhart is an on-base machine, so it seems like our three, four and five hitters always have guys on base."
Wittels put the ball in play on a hit and run to score Grimes and move Gebhart to second. Stephen Piscotty then singled to put the Oilers up 2-1.
Meanwhile, Kendall would settle in and allow two runs on five hits in five innings.
"It's nice when the starter is able to take control of the game and give the offense a chance to get back in the game," Machado said.
An infield single by Wittels that scored Justin Charles put the Oilers up 3-1 in the second, but Serritella cut the advantage in half with his visit to North Tinker Lane in the fourth. The Oilers got that run right back in the bottom of the inning when Kyle Leon led off with a double and eventually scored on Grimes' deep drive to center.
Taylor Garrison pitched two scoreless innings and Josh Corrales pitched one to set up Marban.
"We have some very talented guys out there who can come in and make things tough for the other team," Machado said of his bullpen.
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