Tre Dennis rattled Athletes In Action starter Eric Hillenbrand.
P.J. Sequierra then promptly finished him off.
Dennis' near two-run home run that sailed foul in the seventh inning Thursday night paved the way for Sequierra's RBI double, his third hit of the game, and the Peninsula Oilers held on for a 3-2 Alaska Baseball League win and a three-game sweep of the Fire at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
"I just got a good fastball to hit and I got lucky I didn't miss it and got an RBI ... That was game," Sequierra said. "I think he was (rattled). He was almost done. Right after that they took him out because he left a fastball way too hittable for two strikes."
Making his first start of the season, Hillenbrand cruised through the Oilers lineup after allowing two runs in the first.
But he surrendered a single to Bryan Horst to begin the seventh before inducing Joey Mills to pop out in foul territory on a failed sacrifice bunt attempt. Dennis then stepped to the plate and crushed Hillenbrand's first offering over the Carl's Jr. sign in foul territory in right field.
"It cleared the sign and it just hooked foul," Oilers manager Tom Myers said. "It was a great swing."
Hillenbrand, not about to throw anything over the plate, walked Dennis on four straight pitches, pushing Horst to second, and then worked a 2-2 count on Sequierra, one strike called by the umpire after a failed time out attempt by Sequierra.
"I said, 'It's all right (umpire) Cecil. I only need one anyway,'" Sequierra said. "And then it kind of worked out."
"Kind of" is an understatement.
The Oilers third baseman golfed Hillenbrand's fifth pitch of the at-bat, a low fastball, into left-center gap, driving in Horst with the eventual winning run.
"He didn't want to come back in there," Dennis said of the four-pitch walk following his near dinger. "I was hoping, I was looking at the umpire, I hoping they might say fair ball, but they didn't. It would have been nice, though.
"After that he threw a couple balls and he left P.J. one and he got a hold of it."
Reliever Brandon Berl did all he could to preserve the lead, allowing just one hit in the seventh and none in the eighth, but hit David Stewart with a pitch and allowed Quinnlan Clair to move him to second when he reached on a grounder that rolled through the legs of Horst at shortstop.
But Berl, needing just one out, worked a 3-2 count against Caleb King before getting the center fielder to pop out in quelling the threat.
"He's a real tough competitor," Sequierra said of Berl. "Every time he gets on the mound, I have a lot of confidence in him and he always gets it done. He's just a tough kid and I love his mentality on the mound."
Erik Draxton then worked a perfect ninth, recording his seventh save of the season in helping the Oilers close within three games of the first-place Anchorage Glacier Pilots, who lost to the Fairbanks Goldpanners, 6-1.
"When you have relievers that are consistent, regardless of what happens, there may be a miscue, but there's always the next play, or the next pitch, and our guys know that they're going to get another opportunity," Myers said. "So, when you have relievers you can count on that throw strikes, you're not on your heels."
The sweep couldn't have come at a better time, either, as the Oilers (24-10 overall, 12-10 ABL) ended a six-game winning streak with four straight losses, two each to the Pilots and the Anchorage Bucs, which dropped them from 1 games behind the Pilots to five in a span of less than 48 hours.
"We needed it after the four-game losing streak we were on with the Pilots and the Bucs. We needed something to get our confidence back up and that's all we really need to get back on track," Dennis said. "I think we're back to where we need to be and when we'll go play those teams again, they'll see a different team."
Now, they're right back in the hunt as they depart on a 10-game road trip, beginning today with a 4 p.m. ABL Showcase tilt against the Mat-Su Miners at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.
"It's momentum going on the road," Myers explained. "I think our guys are excited to go on the road and maybe get a chance to do some things in some more offensive-friendly ballparks."
The Oilers on Thursday picked up where they left off Wednesday night, when they jumped all over Fire starter Jeremy McChesney for seven runs in the first three innings, including a three-run first.
Hillenbrand didn't fair any better early on.
Compiling a miniscule 0.51 ERA in 17.2 innings of ABL work, all in relief, while holding opponents to a mere .038 batting average, Hillenbrand surrendered consecutive base hits to Sequierra and Vince Belnome to begin the game, Belnome's a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt attempt down the first-base line. Anthony Aliotti then worked a two-out full count before lining a single to right, bringing home Sequierra for a 1-0 lead.
Falling behind 0-1, Jeremy Gould then slapped an opposite-field single to right, easily plating Belnome for a two-run cushion.
But after working a perfect first, Oilers starter Joe Gardner hit a road block in the second, allowing Ryan Thompson to reach on an inning-opening single before Tobias Streich advanced him to second with a sac bunt. After issuing a four-pitch walk to David Stewart, a wild pitch by Gardner moved Thompson and Stewart to second and third, respectively, and Thompson came home on a passed ball, one that escaped catcher Kawika Emsley-Pai when Quinnlan Clair swung at strike three.
Caleb King then knotted the game at two on a single to center field.
Both pitchers then settled down, Hillenbrand retiring eight of nine Oilers through the fourth inning and Gardner working a 1-2-3 third before allowing a one-out single to Stewart in the fourth. But after walking Clair on a 3-2 pitch, Gardner got King to roll into a fielder's choice, erasing Stewart at third, and then caught Nick Crawford looking at an outside curveball for the third out.
Gardner -- who struck out five and walked two -- allowed his fourth and final hit in the fifth, another single, this time by Jonathan Merritt, but closed the book on his outing by inducing Enos to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, the only one of the series for either team.
"Gardner was very good," Myers said. "He didn't get maybe the run support that he's had in previous starts but ... Joe gave us five strong and he kept us in the game and that's what you're looking for."
Kevin Matsumoto appeared in fine form in the sixth, requiring just one pitch to get Thompson on a tapper to the mound, but quickly found himself in a jam after surrendering back-to-back singles to Streich and Stewart. The right-hander, however, preserved the tie by getting Clair to fly out to right and once again needed just a single pitch in retiring King on a ground-out to Horst.
"Our pitching staff this year's been incredible," Sequierra marveled. "They put a lot on their backs and we don't score enough runs, so there's always the one-run, or two-run lead and they always got to hold it down and they do. They do a great job."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.