It's easy to show up, play well and win. Teams do it all the time. The ability to pull out out a win in a game that you play poorly in is something that separates the average teams from the good teams and that's what UCLA did on Saturday to become the best ever UCLA team in the early going. The 1978 Bruin team got off to a 8-0 start to their season, the best start in school history, but UCLA's 5-4 win over Nebraska on Saturday at Jackie Robinson Stadium was their ninth straight to start the season, a new school record.
On Saturday, the Bruins did a lot of what they had avoided doing for the season's first eight games. Errors? Try three of them. Miscommunication letting a fly ball drop between two outfielders? Yup. Runners left on base? A ton. Walking batters? The Bruins handed out four free passes. Giving up a three run lead? Check. UCLA played their worst game of the season, but it was good enough to pick up the win thanks to five innings of one-run, 10 strikeouts work by Rob Rasmussen, a 3-4, three RBI, two run game by Dean Espy and a walk off sacrifice fly by Tyler Rahmatulla in the ninth inning.
Nebraska was first on the board thanks to an error by Rasmussen in the second inning. After a lead off double, Nebraska put down a sacrifice bunt, but it was a poor bunt and Rasmussen had the guy trying to take third. The junior couldn't get it done, though, and misfired with a throw into left field that allowed the runner to score.
The Cornhuskers did not lead for long because of a big bottom half of the inning by the Bruins. With two-out, Brett Krill singled and Niko Gallego walked to put two runners on. Espy followed, but quickly found himself behind in the count, 0-2. The third baseman managed to foul off three pitches before jumping on one and smacking it out to left center for his third home run of the season.A walk by Steve Rodriguez was next and consecutive singles by Beau Amaral and Blair Dunlap scored another run for a 4-1 UCLA lead.
With the score still the same after five innings, Rasmussen was pulled and was in line for his first win of the year. Mitchell Beacom entered and threw a scoreless sixth and seventh before coming out for the eighth. After allowing a lead off single in the eighth, Erik Goeddel entered and allowed a single and hit a batter. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Goeddel got a big strikeout before handing the ball to Matt Grace, who got a strikeout of his own. Dan Klein then entered, but he allowed a pair of singles that scored three runs and tie the game at four apiece. The runs also ended the bullpen's innings streak without an earned run at 26.2 innings.
Klein came back out in the ninth and threw a perfect 1-2-3 inning to put the game in the hands of the offense. Espy got things going with a lead off single and then the Bruins got a break of their own. Rodriguez put a sacrifice bunt down the first base line and when the Huskers pitcher went to field it, he came up with nothing but air. The ball was still on the grass and Rodriguez was safe at first. After Amaral got his sacrifice bunt down, the Huskers intentionally walked Dunlap to load the bases with one out. Rahmatulla came to the plate and smacked the first pitch he saw to center, where it was caught, but it was deep enough for Espy to tag and score from third for the win.
Despite giving up the tying runs, Klein's perfect ninth inning earned him the win, his first of the season. In addition to Espy's great game, Justin Uribe chipped in with a 3-4 game of his own and Dunlap went 2-4 with a RBI.
Through nine games, the Bruins are hitting .379 as a team with 16 homers and a .459 on-base percentage, while the pitching staff holds a 2.00 ERA with a .193 opponent's batting average and 119 strikeouts in 81 innings to only 23 walks.
UCLA will look to improve upon their record start on Tuesday when a UC Riverside team off to a good start visits Jackie Robinson Stadium. Garett Claypool (1-0, 1.00 ERA) will be on the mound for the Bruins on a $2 Tuesday, where all tickets are $2. Make sure to keep an eye on my UCLA baseball twitter in the next couple days for links to any articles mentioning the Bruins and the Bruins' standing in the new polls as they come out on Monday.