5 Oilers earn ABL honors

Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2008

When Tom Myers took the helm of the Peninsula Oilers in November 2007, most of the 2008 squad had already been assembled.

The incoming skipper didn't have any qualms with that, either.

"I'd say 80 to 90 percent of the club was already handpicked," Myers said during Tuesday's practice. "I said, 'I'll deal with the cards I was dealt.'"

The University of California Santa Barbara pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, however, still had an ace up his sleeve -- pun intended.

After convincing pitcher Joe Gardner in May to spend his upcoming junior season under his tutelage at UCSB, Myers then invited the lanky, right-hander to play for the Oilers.

The results have been nothing short of sensational.

Compiling an Alaska Baseball League-best 0.73 ERA with a 4-0 mark through seven ABL starts, Gardner was honored Monday as a first-team ABL selection and the co-runner up to 2008 ABL Player of the Year Brint Hardy of the Athletes In Action Fire.

"I think he's been one of the most dominant arms in this league," Myers said. "Every time he's taken the mound for us, he's given us a chance to win."

With three coaches from each of the six ABL teams receiving a vote, as well as each team's radio broadcaster, Gardner and Anchorage Bucs hurler Christian Bergman each garnered two nods, while Hardy was a runaway choice with 15 of the 23 votes. Four others received one vote each and another vote wasn't cast.

Hardy -- who singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth Saturday night in the Fire's 10-9 win over the Oilers -- is batting a league-best .375 with three home runs and 16 RBIs through ABL play on Monday.

It's hard to top that. Gardner has come close, though.

Despite serving as the team's No. 2 starter, behind only left-hander Ross Humes, who was also named to the ABL first team and received a single player-of-the-year vote but is no longer with the Oilers after leaving with an injury, Gardner has still been perhaps the most effective pitcher in the league, going 6-0 in nine overall starts with 38 strikeouts, 18 walks and a microscopic 0.75 ERA.

"I came up as a reliever actually, and then coach wanted me to start because I threw a lot of innings earlier this season," Gardner explained. "I just started going from there. I just wanted to get better and it kind of worked out pretty good to be 6-0."

Myers never had his doubts. Having played last season at Ohlone College in California, his home state, Gardner was coveted by his future coach, who said the pitcher was also being scouted by LSU.

"I said, 'If you choose to play for us, I'm managing up in Alaska and I would like you to come up and play for me because that would give us the ability to establish a rapport,'" Myers recalled. "Now it's a matter for me, I think, getting him in the weight room with our strength coach, adding some strength and some muscle because he's got a chance to be a successful collegian, as well as a chance to play for a long time professionally.

"Without Joe Gardner, I don't think this team is where they're at as we speak," he added. "It was nice that he came about for the Gauchos, and even better for the Oilers."

Also named to the ABL All-Star First Team was closer Erik Draxton, who is tied for the team lead with seven saves, and Humes, who left the squad on July 21 yet still owns the second-best ERA in the league at 0.84 with a 4-0 record and 27 strikeouts to just six walks.

"When you have one of your top arms, you want to have a guy who has the ability to keep you in ballgames. That's what (Gardner) has done and what Ross Humes did for us all year," Myers said. "Every time we played, we had a chance to win series."

Honored with ABL second-team selections was Oilers catcher Francis Larson and reliever Brandon Berl.

Berl, a key component in Peninsula's bullpen, boasts the third best ERA in the league (0.94), and Larson, while not acclimating to the wood bat as quickly as he had probably hoped, hitting under .200 before coming on strong as of late, has been a stalwart behind the plate, throwing out 27 of the 45 runners (60 percent) who tried to steal on him.

"The umpires took a vote and they told me that he's the best catcher in the league," Myers said. "The wood bat, playing in a tough ballpark, I don't really judge his batting average to be what it is.

"He's been the glue behind the plate," he added. "Larson controls our pitching staff, controls the running game, our pitcher's like throwing to him and he's a leader."

The Oilers, who host the Mat-Su Miners at 6 p.m. today and again on Thursday, will need every morsel of leadership they can gather as they prepare for their second consecutive trip to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.

Despite being mathematically out of contention for the ABL title, Peninsula, along with the likely champion Anchorage Glacier Pilots, will represent the league in the World Series, with many of the Oilers departing directly following their 7 p.m. regular-season finale on Friday in Anchorage against the Bucs.

"Baseball's a game of breaks. We haven't had a lot of fortune on our side, and that's just the way it is," Myers said. "But maybe now with what we've learned as a coaching staff and as a team, if we get some bounces in our favor in the World Series, we've got a chance to maybe go a long way."

It's no secret who will taking the mound in the NBC opener on Sunday at 7 p.m. ADT when the Oilers begin their quest for a fourth World Series crown.

"Gardner's going to get the ball," Myers said. "We know what we're going to get."

So does Gardner.

"It's going to be warm, (but) I'm used to that California sun," he said. "So I'll be ready.

"I'd like to win it. That'd be really great. We've got to go 7-0, which we can do. We went 9-0 at the beginning of the season, so we can obviously do it."

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