Way back at the end of June, after joining the team late and playing his first six games with the Oilers, Peninsula second baseman Danny Garcia said the 2000 Oilers were better than the 1999 edition.
At the time, it seemed like a daring statement to make. The 1999 Oilers won the Alaska Baseball League by 2 1/2 games and finished second in the prestigious National Baseball Congress World Series.
But as the season has unfolded, the Oilers have kept proving Garcia right. Sunday, the 2000 Oilers offered one more bit of evidence by defeating the Mat-Su Miners 9-1 at Coral Seymour Memorial Park to clinch the Alaska Baseball League title with three games left to play.
"When I said we were better, what I was referring to is we swing the bat, one through nine, a lot better," Garcia said after Peninsula improved to 19-7 in the league. "Last year, the seven, eight and nine hitters were almost sure outs.
"This year, anybody can get something started."
It is the Oilers' third straight ABL crown. Mike Baxter, the baseball operations manager for the club, said it is the first time he can remember the Oilers organization, which was formed in 1974, winning three straight league titles.
Things have worked out all year for the Oilers and the way they clinched the title Sunday was no different.
For starters, there was Soldotna's Chris Mabeus.
When Mabeus started playing baseball at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in high school with the American Legion Post 20 Twins, not even the soothsayer Garcia could have predicted that one day Mabeus would play for the Oilers -- a group of players he grew up idolizing.
"I never thought I would play for the Oilers," Mabeus said. "I used to play first base and catch a little, but I didn't pitch much.
"For me to have played for them for three years, and to get three titles, is pretty amazing."
Amazing also would describe the opportunity Mabeus had Sunday. Oilers manager Gary Adcock gave him the start, and in what will probably be his last time on the Seymour Park hill, he pitched the Oilers to a league-clinching victory.
Mabeus pitched seven innings, allowing five hits and one run, to improve his record this year to 4-1. The right-hander is one of the most important members of the Oilers staff after pitching just 15 innings in 1998 and 34 1/3 innings last year.
"The maturation process from his first year here to now is a credit to Chris," said Adcock, who was a pitching coach for the Oilers in 1998 and became manager in 1999. "I'm glad it worked out that we could get him the start today."
The Oilers wasted little time in the game getting Mabeus a cushion. The way they got that cushion shows why they are ABL champions.
In the bottom of the first, leadoff hitter Garcia singled. Next up was Jeremy Reed, who is often mentioned as an ABL Player of the Year candidate. Reed could have tried to pad his stats for his Player of the Year resume, but instead he put down a sacrifice to move Garcia to second.
In the third, Reed made a similar move for the good of the team by grounding out to second to move runners to second and third.
"That's just the way I was taught to play baseball," Reed said. "Any time I can get a runner in scoring position early in the game, I'll do anything I can to do it.
"In situations like those, there's no reason to sit back and drive the ball."
Hunter Brown singled to score Garcia, give the Oilers a 1-0 lead and make Reed's first-inning sacrifice pay off. Garcia scored from second on the play even though McCabe's hit was a sharp line drive right to the left fielder.
Adcock sent Garcia anyway, showing the aggressive managing style that has kept the ABL on its heels all year.
"He likes to come out, set the tone and be aggressive," Garcia said of Adcock. "I'm the guy he uses to do that. I love being that guy."
Peninsula then blew the game open in the bottom of the fourth. The big play in the inning came when McCabe reached on an error by Miners first baseman Matt Williams. Peninsula would go on to score seven runs in the inning after two were out to take an 8-0 lead.
"This is pretty sweet," said McCabe, who was 2-for-4 with a run and three RBIs. "You hear a lot in summer ball about teams not caring if they lose because then they can go home early.
"That's not the case with this team at all. We get along great and we're having a great year together."
The Oilers continue their series with the Miners today at 6 p.m. at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
OILERS 9, MINERS 1
Miners AB R H BI Oilers AB R H BI
Parker dh 4 0 1 0 Garcia 2b 4 2 2 1
Randel rf 3 0 0 0 Reed rf 2 1 0 1
Walker lf 2 0 1 0 Kaye ph 1 0 0 0
Strickroth rf 1 0 0 0 Brown ss 3 1 1 2
Ison ss 4 0 0 0 Simmons dh 4 2 2 2
Griffin 3b 4 0 0 0 McCabe 3b 4 1 2 3
Williams 1b 4 0 0 0 Shelley lf 4 1 1 0
Grzecka c 3 1 1 0 Carlson 1b 3 0 0 0
Tousa 2b 3 0 2 0 Hietpas c 3 0 0 0
Rutkowski cf 2 0 0 1 Coleman cf 2 1 0 0
Totals 30 1 5 1 Totals 30 9 8 9
Mat-Su 000 000 100 --1
Peninsula 100 701 00x --9
E -- Ison, Williams, Garcia. DP -- Miners 1, Oilers 1. LOB -- Miners 7, Oilers 6. 2B -- Walker, Simmons. SB -- Grzecka, Brown, Simmons. S -- Rutkowski, Carlson, Reed.
IP H R ER BB SO
Friske, L 3 2-3 4 6 1 5 1
Bunn 1 1-3 2 2 2 0 1
Lammers 3 2 1 1 0 1
Mabeus, W 7 5 1 1 4 3
Esposito 2 0 0 0 0 0
HBP -- by Bunn (Brown). T -- 2:38.
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