The moment that defined Sunday's game between the Peninsula Oilers and Athletes in Action Fire at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai came in the ninth inning, when Oilers starter Tyler Fleming struck out Kirk Nieuwenhuis, leading the Fire with a .355 average, for the third time of the game and Nieuwenhuis slammed the barrel of his bat on the dirt, breaking the lumber off at the handle.
It was that kind of a day for Fleming and that kind of a day for the Fire offense, which has a .294 batting average.
On a sunny, 70-degree afternoon that no doubt had a few fans engaging in other summer pleasures on the Kenai Peninsula, Fleming pitched a one-hit shutout to give the Oilers a 2-0 victory over the Fire.
The loss is the third straight for the Fire, which had won 21 of 24 before their current losing streak. AIA saw its lead atop the Alaska Baseball League cut to just one-half game over the Miners, who did not play on Sunday. The Fire, with a 22-10 record, have three games left, while the Miners, at 22-11, have two games left. The Oilers improved to 16-17 and remain in third place.
On July 23, in his last appearance, Fleming, now 5-2, felt the full bite of the Fire offense. He gave up seven runs six earned in just 4 1/3 innings and walked six in what turned into an 8-3 loss. Sunday, Fleming rebounded to improve the Oilers' record against the Fire to 1-4.
"It was definitely good to finally get a win against them," said Fleming, who entered the game with a 4.03 ERA. "My last time out, they hit me around a little bit."
The first complete-game shutout of the year by a Peninsula pitcher was timely for the Oilers, who hadn't had a starter pitch six innings since Matt Thomson turned the trick on July 18. That lack of long starts, combined with a 12-inning loss to the Mat-Su Miners on Saturday in which the Oilers used five pitchers, left the bullpen in desperate need of a rest.
"I talked to assistant coach Dennis Machado before the game and he said he needed me to go as long as possible because of our bullpen," Fleming said. "Our bullpen has been doing a great job all year. They just needed a rest."
Oilers manager Daniel Boyle said Fleming has the nickname "2-2, 3-2" due to all the lengthy counts he usually rolls up while pitching.
"This is the best I've seen Tyler pitch all year," Boyle said. "He did a great job getting ahead and forcing contact early."
Fleming walked three, but he was able to keep his pitch count low enough to go the distance. He threw 71 of his 115 pitches for strikes. His only blemishes were the three walks, a leadoff single by Kevin Winn in the fifth inning and a scary moment in the fourth inning when one of his pitches nailed Justin Skinner in the batting helmet. Skinner was OK and stayed in the game.
The Oilers made a couple of uncostly errors on defense and more than made up for those miscues with some sharp plays. In the third, with a runner on first and one out, PK Keller sent a shot back at Fleming, who deflected the ball off his glove. Third baseman Toby Davis barehanded the ball and retired Keller at first. Catcher David Genao made up for a dropped foul pop fly in the sixth by catching Skinner trying to steal in the fourth and cutting down Winn at second when Jamie McGraw tried a sacrifice bunt in the fifth.
The Oilers' best defensive play came in the eighth, when McGraw led off the inning with a smash up the middle. Shortstop Juan Martinez made a diving stab to stop the ball, slid and spun while he was on the ground, then popped up and threw out McGraw. That play was part of a stretch where Fleming retired the last 13 batters he faced.
"The defense as a whole did a great job," said Fleming, who spun his gem in front of parents Gary and Judy, who arrived on the peninsula on Saturday. "It makes it easy to pitch when the defense plays like that."
Fire starter Bobby Bennett, now 3-2 with a 2.17 ERA, nearly matched Fleming. He pitched 7 2/3 innings and gave up just one earned run on seven hits while walking one and striking out five.
The Oilers got the only runs they would need in the second inning, when Davis led off with a single. Mejia followed with a bunt, and Bennett threw wildly to second attempting to get Davis. After Genao moved runners to second and third with a pop fly to right, Robert Lundy practically threw his bat at a 1-1 offering from Bennett and collected a bloop hit to left to score Davis. The next batter, Steve Goins, used the same throw-the-bat technique to send a flare to right and score Mejia.
The Oilers face the Fire again tonight at 6 p.m., with Chance Deason getting the start for Peninsula.
Oilers 2, AIA 0
Fire AB R H BI Oilers AB R H BI
Keller lf 3 0 0 0 Dabbs rf 3 0 0 0
Lake 2b 3 0 0 0 Wilkes 1b 4 0 1 0
Staples 3b 4 0 0 0 Buss cf 4 0 0 0
Nwnhs 1b 4 0 0 0 Davis 3b 2 1 1 0
Skinner ss 3 0 0 0 Mejia lf 3 1 1 0
Root rf 3 0 0 0 Genao c 3 0 1 0
Winn dh 3 0 1 0 Lundy dh 3 0 1 1
Hollinger c 3 0 0 0 Goins 2b 3 0 1 1
McGraw cf 2 0 0 0 Martinz ss 3 0 1 0
Totals 28 0 1 0 Totals 28 2 7 2
AIA 000 000 000 0
Peninsula 020 000 00x 2
E Bennett, Goins, Genao. DP Fire 3, Oilers 1. LOB Fire 5, Oilers 4. SB McGraw. CS Skinner.
IP H R ER BB SO
Bennett, L (3-2) 7 2-3 7 2 1 1 5
Noyes 1-3 0 0 0 0 1
Fleming, W (5-2) 9 1 0 0 3 6
HBP by Bennett (Dabbs); by Fleming (Skinner).
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