By Adam Raeder
June 25, 2007
First Joel Staples gave the Athletes in Action Fire new life, then he won them the game.
Perfect from the plate Sunday, Staples connected on a game-tying home run in the eighth inning, then scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th as the Fire (2-4 Alaska Baseball League, 4-8 overall) claimed a 4-3 come from behind win over the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks (1-1, 7-3) at Growden Memorial Park.
“It was a new game,” Staples said of his home run. “It was a tie game, 3-3, anything could happen, we’re the home team. So, I thought there was a good chance for us to win a game.”
After dodging trouble in the ninth, the Fire did just that in the tenth, with Staples leading the way.
The Fire third baseman touched up Brad Schwarzenbach for a double to the left field wall to lead off the extra stanza for his fourth hit of the night.
After advancing to third on an AJ Morris sacrifice bunt, Staples snapped the Fire’s two-game losing streak thanks to a Kirk Nieuwenhuis single down the first base line.
“Runner on third, we already had one out, you don’t want to go two outs and put more pressure on the next guys,” said the Fire center fielder, who was red-hot from the plate, going 4-for-5. “So, I mean, I knew he was a fastball/slider guy. It was 2-2, I knew he was going to come with a slider. I just tried to get my hands inside the ball and it stayed fair.”
The timely knocks snapped a streak of hitting futility for the Fire that saw them put up big hit totals without it translating into too many runs.
“We’ve been struggling lately,” Nieuwenhuis said. “Our bats have been there, we’ve been putting up quite a few hits, but we just haven’t been able to get runs across.”
The Fire did just that Sunday against an unlikely victim.
Schwarzenbach has two saves on the year and hadn’t given up a run until Sunday’s game.
“He’s been real good for us,” Sean Bard said. “They hit some tough pitches.”
With first base open and the Panners needing two outs to force another inning, Alaska chose to pitch to Nieuwenhuis even though he had three consecutive base hits.
With the Fire’s Tyler Light and Alaska’s Brandon Harmon locked in a pitchers’ duel, the Panners, who were once again without the ailing Troy Hamilton, broke onto the scoreboard first in the sixth inning. After Paul Martin led off the inning with a walk – the first leadoff batter to reach base for the Panners – Chris Valencia advanced him over with a groundout to first base.
Then Bard, who had nothing to show for two hard hit balls, put Alaska on top with an opposite field double down the right field line.
Bard then came around to score on a single by designated hitter Nick Ciolli.
“Oh yeah, it was real nice,” Bard said. “You just keep trying to hit the ball and hope you find a hole. You just keep hitting it hard eventually they do find holes.”
Bard found the exact same hole in the eighth, going the other way down the line with a 2-1 Payton Tweddale offering, plating Martin for a 3-1 advantage.
Then Staples struck.
With second baseman Joe Lake on second base, Staples sent a towering fly that carried over the right field wall.
Tweddale and the Fire worked out of trouble in the ninth. Back-to-back singles by Chris Tremblay and Josh Ashenbrenner put runners on first and second with one out, but Tweddale got Brent Wyatt to ground into a double play to end the threat.
While the loss spoiled another strong outing from Harmon – the Gonzaga right-hander allowed just one run and six hits in seven innings of work, striking out three – it also marked the first game the Goldpanners lost in which they held a lead.