Somehow, miraculously, the Peninsula Oilers got in their first game of the season Friday night with rain and darkness threatening, but the defending champion Mat-Su Miners left with a 6-4 victory at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
Then, Saturday, came something even more miraculous. The Oilers defeated the Miners 4-3, with the winning run coming on an eighth-inning home run by John Thomas that bounced off the head of left fielder Quin Cotton and over the wall.
“We won the game, so I’ll take it,” Thomas said in a postgame interview on 1140 AM.
Caleb Hicks came on in the ninth for the save, but the Miners loaded the bases with nobody out. Hicks got out of the jam with a strikeout and by inducing a double-play ball to hand the Miners their first loss of the season in six tries.
Raymond Kerr got the start for the Oilers, going six innings and giving up a run on five hits while walking one and striking out six. Matthew Acosta got the win in two innings of relief, giving up two runs on a hit and four walks.
On offense, the Oilers struck for 10 hits, with Thomas leading the way at 2 for 4 with two runs and Hicks going 3 for 4.
Friday, Mat-Su struck early with four runs in the first inning and led 5-0 after two, but the Oilers slowly chipped away at the deficit with one run each in the third and sixth innings before a two-run shot over the right field fence by Oliver Dunn in the bottom of the ninth. Dunn led the local nine by hitting 3 for 5 with two runs.
However, it wasn’t enough to catch up to the streaking Miners.
Veteran coach and manager Jim Dietz said as the rain began to fall an hour before first pitch, he questioned the umpires about whether the game should start, and whether Saturday’s game time could be pushed up an hour earlier to avoid delays and late play.
“It’s one of those things where the safety of my athletes is probably the most paramount thing I have, and I was really nervous about going out there tonight,” Dietz said. “But I tell you what, these guys don’t quit. I was really proud of them.”
Although the Oilers committed four errors, which could be chalked up to the muddy infield, Dietz said the Miners playing their fifth game of the short summer made a difference.
“If we play like that all year, we’re going to have a hell of a year,” he said.
The rain helped turn routine plays into errors, stretching the contest to 3 hours, 35 minutes, and by the time the final out was recorded, the scoreboard in left field lit up the darkening park like a Las Vegas sign.
Amid the wet weather that at times made a full nine innings seem impossible to reach, an Oilers member not even technically on the roster made the biggest impact. Assistant coach Ryan Doran entered in relief in the fifth inning and immediately stamped his authority on the game with a strikeout and a swift pickoff at first. Doran struck out four in three scoreless innings of work while giving up just three hits and no walks. The veteran also faced just 11 batters.
“You could say it was a flashback to old times,” Doran said.
The 26-year-old spent three years in the Arizona Diamondbacks minor league system following a career at San Diego State, where he was coached by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
As a member of the coaching staff for this year’s Oilers, Doran is only allowed seven game appearances this summer, and quickly used up one in the season opener. Doran’s appearance helped the Oilers keep their pitching staff rested while the remaining members of the team trickle in over the next week.
Doran said he was able to keep batters off-balance by throwing first-pitch strikes with a fastball, moving to a breaking ball, and putting away batters with a combination of the two throws.
“It was basically my skill set that helps,” he said. “I don’t have to throw hard to get guys out. I can lean back on my laurels to get guys out.”
The right-hander said Friday’s conditions weren’t the worst in which he has played, but the rain made life worse for everybody, particularly the defense behind him.
“The good part is I can come in here and tell guys what to do,” Doran said. “Gain some credibility with them.”
Dietz said Doran’s time in the minors and college really showed on the mound, giving the younger guys an idea of what to expect.
“He can show them what an experienced guy does,” he said. “I was really pleased with a lot of those things.”
Oilers starter Tyler Waldrop lasted 4 1-3 innings and gave up five runs (two earned) on four hits and five walks, while striking out four. Waldrop is a right-handed sophomore from Michigan.
Mat-Su starter Spencer Hensen struck out three in a scoreless and hitless two innings of work.
It didn’t take long for the Miners to get on the board. Two walks and a single led to a run scored on an errant throw, and a high throw from catcher Mikey Hoehner to second base led to two more runs coming in for a 3-0 lead.
The Oilers answered back in the bottom of the third. With one out, Dunn smartly bunted along the third-base line to reach base and Hoehner walked to put runners on first and second, then both advanced into scoring position when the catcher dropped the ball on a pitch, with Dunn barely evading the tag at third.
It all set up Matt Acosta to bring in the Oilers’ first run of the year on an RBI ground-out.
Jose Vizcaino roped a two-out line drive to right field in the bottom of the fourth to give the Oilers another shot to score, but he was caught stealing second to end to inning.
Doran came on to relieve Waldrop in the top of the fifth and proceeded to strike out the first batter he saw. He then caught Brandon Chinea in a pickoff at first after giving up a single.
In the bottom of the frame, Caleb Hicks hit a leadoff double, then Dunn hit an infield single to put runners on the corners with one out. Hoehner then walked to load the bases, but Acosta grounded into a double play to end the rally.
A low throw in the dirt to first base by relief pitcher Jake Butcher allowed Kipp Moore to reach in the bottom of the sixth with no outs, and Moore advanced to second on a ground-out by John Thomas. Ryan Smith then hit right to Butcher on the mound, who turned to throw to second, but a mixup by Bull at second allowed Smith to reach safely and advance Moore to third. Smith stole second to put two in scoring position, and Josh Congdon scored on a ground-out by Vizcaino to cut the lead to 5-2.
Hicks drew a two-out walk, but Strahm struck out looking to end the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, both Smith and Vizcaino had two-out singles, but Hicks popped out to left field to end it.
It all led up the ninth-inning drama, when Strahm led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, and Dunn unleashed a full-count bomb over the right field fence to cut the lead to 6-4, but it was all in vain as the Miners notched the final three outs to secure their fifth straight win.