PERTH, 15 December - For a single afternoon, the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat did not hold an outright lead in the standings since November of 2011.
The Cavalry's 5-0 win in Melbourne earlier in the day moved Canberra into equal first with the Heat, but a 10-8 comeback win against the Blue Sox would propel the Heat back to an outright lead. The game had additional importance for the Heat, knowing beforehand that a win would give them the tiebreaker advantage over the Blue Sox.
Given the high stakes of the game, it was a massive blow when the Blue Sox came out firing to take a 4-0 lead in the top of the first. Starting with a first pitch home run to Michael Lysaught, Scott Mitchinson struggled with his control early as James Robbins picked up an RBI single and Geoffrey Klein knocked the wind out of the Heat with a two RBI single of his own.
With their backs to the wall early, the Heat started their first fightback of the game with a two run RBI double for Michael Ohlman, Carter Bell drove in Ohlman to bring the Heat to within one run. The Blue Sox weren't done with Mitchinson however, scoring another run in the third and two in the fourth to bring their lead back to four.
Coming out after the seventh inning stretch trailing 8 to 4, something ignited in the Heat's offence. A Melker walk and de San Miguel double allowed Michael Ohlman to drive in Melker and move de San Miguel to third. With the pressure on, Zachary Penrase made the Blue Sox first error allowing de San Miguel to score and McGee to reach safely. Carter Bell joined the party to drive in Ohlman as the Blue Sox lead was cut to one without registering an out.
As Dae-Sung Koo came in to relieve Tyler Herr, Steve Fish approached pitcher Greg Van Sickler (1-0, 1.35) who had already thrown three innings of relief.
"Fish pretty much just told me; 'You ready to swing? Grab a bat.' I kind of looked at him like he was joking at first, but sure enough he put me in."
Van Sicker had already faced Koo in the previous evening, and his familiarity with the lefty paid off, picking up an RBI single to tie the game.
"It was great man," said Steve Fish. "I went over there and saw Koo coming in to pitch and I said to Greg 'Can you hit right now?' He says 'huh?' and I said 'It's your hit'. He came in and got that huge run for us."
Van Sickler would eventually score the run that gave the Heat the lead on a Jordan Dyer single and an Elliot Hargreaves sacrifice fly would score the last run of the Heat's rally, a six run inning to lead 10-8 heading into the eighth. Van Sickler stayed in to throw another scoreless inning, handing the reins to Cameron Lamb.
The Blue Sox showed some fight, opening the ninth with back to back hits. David Kandilas would score Mitch denning on a ground out as Lamb faced a tricky situation with the potential tying runner on third base with less than two out. Back to back ground outs from Lamb kept D'Antonio at third as the Heat picked up the win to return to the top of the league.
Prior to getting on the plane to join the Heat's All Stars in Melbourne, Steve Fish was delighted in the Heat's ability to come back for their biggest win so far this season.
"I tell you what, pretty resilient group right there and to battle back and string hits together and come out with a win in that situation," said Fish.
"I told them this could possibly be the biggest win of this season. If we win today we tied the series in the head to head, but we scored more runs so it's gives us the tiebreaker there. The stress and urgency in the later innings was pretty high and I can't say enough about the kids for doing what they did."
Carter Bell had a big night, with multiple hits and RBI's in crucial situations for the Heat.
"We really had to battle this weekend so I think it's going to give us some momentum going into the series with Adelaide. I feel a lot better. It's a game when you can do everything right but still not get the numbers you want."
Bell saved his highest praise for Van Sickler.
"The dude does it all, I think he's taking the trash out right!"
The only down side of the day was that it was the last chance to see Adam Melker in a Heat uniform. The St Louis Cardinals prospect scored three runs in his final Heat game.
"We needed it. We're winning games but I think we're dropping a few I don't think we should. To just battle back in the seventh innings and get six runs like that I think it's pretty good going into the second half of the season."
"It's my first winterball experience. It's pretty far away from home and didn't know what to expect. But I couldn't ask for a better situation, for a better group of guys or a better group of coaches. I've enjoyed my time and it's kind of winding down and I've got to go, but I really wish I had more time. It's just the way things are and I appreciate what people have done for me here."
The rest of the Heat squad will regroup for another crucial series against the inform Adelaide Bite, who won all four games at Coopers Stadium starting the 21st of December.