Blair Dunlap's three hits were part of a tremendous top of the order for UCLA (Photo Credit: Official Site)
It took nearly four hours and what started as a beautiful evening turned into a chilly night, but UCLA did enough to beat USC, 13-7, for their 11th win in their last 14 versus the Trojans. Neither team's pitchers fared overly well, largely in part to an amazingly inconsistent home plate umpire who made it nearly impossible to consistently throw strikes or work certain parts of the plate. Even so, the Bruins walked away winners in front of 1,707 fans at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
The difference in the ballgame was the Bruins' ability to execute the fundamentals or more so, the Trojans inability to. While they weren't outstanding, UCLA was much better than the USC team that made multiple base running mistakes, committed two errors and made several other poor defensive plays, both physical and mental. As a result, the Bruins are 34-11 overall and 11-8 in the Pac-10, keeping them in a tie for second with Stanford, who scored five runs in the eighth to come back for a 8-7 win in Palo Alto.
The top of the lineup paced the Bruin lineup, with the top four hitters accounting for nine of UCLA's 13 hits. Lead off man Beau Amaral went 2-4 with a run and RBI, while two-hole hitter Blair Dunlap had a team-best three hits in four at-bats to go along with two RBI and a run. Tyler Rahmatulla went 2-6 with three runs and two RBI in the three-spot and cleanup hitter Justin Uribe went 2-2 with two runs and a RBI. Brett Krill had himself a nice day as well, going 2-3 with three runs and a RBI.
UCLA didn't get the pitching performance that they're used to from Gerrit Cole, but on a night where the umpire limited his ability to do much, as he did to all the pitchers, Cole battled enough to pick up the win to improve to 8-3. The sophomore lasted just five innings and allowed five runs on six hits, walking four and checking in with a season-low two strikeouts. Behind him, Erik Goeddel allowed two runs in 2.2 innings with five strike outs, Matt Grace picked up one out and Dan Klein got three quick outs to finish things.
Before the Trojans could even blink, they found themselves in a familiar position, trailing. Amaral hit a liner to right-center to start the first with a double and after a sacrifice bunt, he scored on a grounder to short by Rahmatulla. On Rahmatulla's grounder, the USC shortstop threw the ball away so the Bruins were able to put a man on second. After that, Uribe lifted a high fly ball deep to right that the Trojan right fielder did a poor job judging and instead of a fly out, Uribe had himself a RBI double. A line to center should have been good for a clean single, but the center fielder made an ill-advised diving attempt and the ball rolled to the wall for a RBI triple. Then, a single by Cody Keefer brought Krill home for a 4-0 Bruin lead.
As would become the case all game long, just when the Bruins put some distance between them and the Trojans, USC would come right back and at least make things interesting. A lead off walk was followed by a double to put two on with nobody out. After a pop up, a hard grounder squeezed inside the first base line for a single that scored a pair.
With their lead cut to 4-2, the Bruins got some more help from the USC defense. Uribe led off the inning with a walk and on a sacrifice bunt, the Trojans tried to get Uribe at second despite having little chance and both Bruins were safe. Another sacrifice bunt by UCLA resulted in a USC error so all three runners were safe. After a strikeout, Niko Gallego grounded into a fielder's choice that got the runner at second, but allowed a run to score for a 5-2 Bruin advantage.
A double to right center by Rahmatulla in the fourth was enough to score Dunlap, who led off the inning with a single. Leading 6-2, the Bruins kept pushing and once again loaded the bases with no out. This time, the Bruins hit into a double play, which calmed the storm, but allowed UCLA to score yet again.
In the next half inning, the always dangerous Ricky Oropesa got to the Bruins for the first time. Arguably the Pac-10's best hitter, Oropesa ripped a double that scored two and cut the Trojans' deficit to 6-4. In the bottom half of the fifth, the Bruins got one of those runs back when Amaral singled home Gallego, who singled and stole two bags, making it a 7-4 ballgame.
Cole's day came to an end in the sixth without getting an out. After a single and a walk started the inning, he was pulled in favor of Goeddel. The right-hander struck out the first two he saw, but an infield single scored a run. Even though the base hit scored a run, the runner who went from second to third found himself far off the bag and got picked off for out number three.
Things got better for the Bruins in the sixth when they struck for three runs. After loading the bases with one out, pinch hitter Dean Espy lifted one to center for a sacrifice fly, scoring one. A walk loaded the bases and a grounder to second looked like it would end the inning, but a bobble and lax defense allowed Gallego to beat out the throw to second base. Chris Giovinazzo strolled home to score from third on the play, but Krill did the real work, busting it on contact and coming all the way around from second to stretch the Bruins' lead to 10-4.
The Trojans came back one more time, again on the back of Oropesa, who lifted one high to right center and onto the roof of the hitting facility for a two-run blast.
Because the Trojans had come back yet again, the Bruins needed some more cushion and got it when Dunlap lined one to the right side that went off the second baseman's glove for a single that scored a pair.
UCLA had hoped not to use Klein, but when Grace allowed the first two batters to reach in the ninth, head coach John Savage did turn to the closer. Klein entered and quickly got a double play then fly out to bring an end to the game for the Bruins' second win of the season over the Trojans.
The three-game Pac-10 series between UCLA and USC continues Saturday at 2 pm PDT when the two teams take to the field at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Trevor Bauer (7-3, 3.01 ERA) will start for the Bruins, opposite SC's Chris Mezger (4-0, 2.57 ERA).