It was cold. It was raining. The Peninsula Oilers were on a three-game losing streak and they were already down 5-0 to the Mat-Su Miners after the top of the second inning despite giving up just two hits. And this to a Miners team that had handed them booming defeats of 17-1 and 12-3 this season.
The time to fold was as good as any. Instead, the Oilers bullpen shut down the Alaska Baseball League’s top offense and the offense clawed its way back until a walk-off single by Chad Bible in the ninth delivered a 6-5 victory for the Oilers on Sunday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
“It was a huge game,” said Oilers reliever Matt Amrhein, who came through with 3 1-3 innings of scoreless relief. “We’ve had some tough losses to that team.”
The Miners still lead the league at 19-11, with the Oilers three games back in second place at 16-14. The Oilers lost this series to the Miners 3-2 and trail 5-4 in the season series.
None of that seemed to matter when the team mobbed Bible at first base.
“We came out flat today,” Bible said. “It was a cold and rainy day and the fifth game of a five-game series.
“After the first inning, some of the guys got pretty fired up and got into some of the other guys.”
In the top of the first and second innings, the Oilers gave a textbook example of how to lose big to the powerful Miners.
In the first inning, a two-out error by shortstop Paul Kunst allowed Aaron Walters to score two with a single and Brayden Merritt to force in another run by getting hit by a pitch.
In the second inning, Oilers starter Christian Winston walked the bases loaded before reliever Erickson Fish gave up another two-RBI single to Walters.
So entering the bottom of the second, the Miners led 5-0 despite getting only two hits. The runs that scored had gotten on via two hit batters, two walks and an error.
The start was so bad, it may have lulled by Miners into a sense of security.
“I just don’t think we played very hard and that’s pretty disappointing,” Miners head coach Ben Taylor said. “Not to take anything away from the Oilers.
“They’re a tough team and they’re well-coached. They play extremely hard and they outplayed us today.”
The Oilers moved back to striking distance in the bottom of the second when Ryan Koch and Ryan Novis led off the inning with singles and scored on a double by Grant Wood.
Peninsula nursed Wood home with a sac bunt by Kunst and an RBI grounder by Matthew Kirk for a 5-3 game.
From there, the Oilers bullpen kept the Miners off the board with 1 1-3 innings from Fish, 3 1-3 from Amrhein, one from Noah Owen and 1 2-3 from winner Calvin Farris.
“It was really impressive,” Bible said. “Our starter had a difficult outing and the bullpen picked him up.”
Amrhein had given up two hits and a run to the Miners in 1 2-3 innings Friday. He said he learned the Miners are really aggressive to the first pitch, and really aggressive to fastballs early in the count, so he mixed in more offspeed action to keep Mat-Su off-balance.
The rain that fell throughout the game was largely benevolent, maintaining a presence but never thinking about shutting down the game.
That doesn’t mean the smattering of showers didn’t affect the game.
In the sixth, the Oilers still trailed by a pair when they loaded up the bases with one away. Starter Asa Lacy coaxed Matthew Kirk into a light tapper in front of the plate, and Koch was easy prey on the force out at home.
Malachi Emond was then summoned from the bullpen to face pinch hitter Evan Berkey. Berkey also tapped one back to the pitcher, but Emond’s attempt to bare-hand the ball failed.
Once he finally corralled the ball, he slipped and threw wildly to first, allowing Novis and Kunst to trot home and tie the game at 5.
In the ninth, Berkey started the winning rally by walking against Spencer Henson. Zack Zalesky bunted Henson to second, then Brian Leonhardt was intentionally walked to set up Bible’s heroics.
Bible went up 3-0 in the count when head coach Kyle Brown gave him the green light and Bible repaid the coach’s confidence.
“When coach gave me the green light, I was trying to hit a home run but I got jammed and hit a single to right,” Bible said. “Baseball’s a funny game. You can square the ball up and get out, or not make great contact and still get a hit.”
The Oilers now have two games off before starting a 10-game road trip with a 5 p.m. doubleheader against the Anchorage Glacier Pilots on Wednesday.