Coming into Friday night's Pac-10 opener, UCLA had not scored six or more runs in consecutive games all season. With that came a disappointing 9-7 record and questions about what happened to the team who were runners up at the College World Series last season. Whether Friday night changes anything about the season remains to be seen, but for a Bruin team struggling, it always helps to play USC, at least lately. On Friday night, playing USC did help as the Bruins defeated the Trojans 8-4 at Dedeaux Field in both teams' Pac-10 openers, UCLA's 14th win in their last 18 games against their crosstown rivals.
The UCLA offense put up eight runs in the second game of Monday's doubleheader, which means the offense would go quiet on Friday if results from earlier in the season were any indicator. They were not. Three quiet innings to start the game were the only real quiet innings for the Bruins as they pounded out eighth runs to pick up the W. It was an offensive performance reminiscent of last season where UCLA didn't have any home runs and didn't have a ton of hits, but they took advantage of Trojan mistakes and used timely hitting to manufacture runs. Steve Rodriguez led the team with three RBI and scored a run, while Jeff Gelalich scored three runs and stole a base. Dean Espy led the team with three hits, scored a run, drove one in and even stole two bases after stealing one all of last season.
Coming into the evening, Gerrit Cole had gone 17.1 innings without a single run of support so despite a 1.37 ERA, he was 1-2 on the season. The first three innings just bumped that number to 20.1 innings, but then the UCLA offense started going and he was able to pick up the win. He'd had dominant outings earlier this season, like when he threw nine scoreless innings, and had not picked up the win. Naturally, as tends to happen in baseball, on a night that he didn't have it all going, allowing four runs in 6.2 innings and walking as many batters on non-intentional walks as he had all season, the right-hander got the win. Cole was backed up by 1.1 scoreless innings by Mitchell Beacom and then a scoreless ninth by Nick Vander Tuig to wrap up the win over the Trojans.
Up and down was the UCLA defense. They committed two more errors, a concerning number, but one of those was a throw away on a pick off attempt by Cole that can't be attributed to the defense as a whole. At the same time, they got some splendid outfield play and Rodriguez added to his offensive output with his always spectacular defense. Rodriguez back picked a man off of first base in a key situation on Friday night and always threw two men out trying to steal, single-handedly putting a halt to the Trojan running game to complete what was undoubtedly a Player of the Game performance.
It was clear from the beginning that Cole was a little off. He struggled to keep his fastball down and paid for it right away when he surrendered a first inning home run that put the Bruins behind early. Based on the way Cole's starts had been going, that one run could have been the game-winning run.
That looked even more possible in the third inning when Pat Valaika was hit by a pitch to start the frame. he was bunted to third, but a ground out and strike out stranded him in scoring position. Once again, UCLA had failed to cash runners in.
Things only got worse in the bottom half of the inning when a hit by pitch, stolen base and single put men on the corners with one out for USC. Then, the Trojans got a base hit up the middle to stretch the lead to 2-0 and they still had men on. Rodriguez helped Cole out a great deal by picking the runner off of first, then Cole got more defensive help on the defensive play of the night. A ball was popped up high into foul territory along the first base lin and Espy gave chase. He tracked the ball all the way to the USC dug out where it looked destined to fall, but Espy reached over the railing and made the catch while flipping head over heels. The grab ended the inning with a man in scoring position and kept the Bruin deficit at 2-0.
Finally, UCLA got their first hit of the game when Tyler Rahmatilla doubled to start the fourth inning. A ground out moved Rahmatulla to third so when Espy singled to left, Rahmatulla scored easily. With UCLA down 2-1 now, Regis followed Espy with a single of his own and Gelalich was hit by a pitch to load the bases. A strike out by Valaika appeared to have eased the pressure on USC starter Andrew Triggs, but Rodriguez made him pay for letting up by lacing a ball into the left field gap. Rodriguez scampered into second base easily and all three base runners came around to score to put the Bruins ahead, 4-2.
Cole ran into more trouble in the fifth when he surrendered another home run, but luckily it was a solo blast and kept UCLA ahead by a run. Also luckily, the Bruin offense would get itself going in the following inning and give Cole a cushion.
Triggs had been pulled in the fifth inning, but the move didn't pay off for the Trojans when their bullpen got to work in the sixth. The first three batters in the inning walked and forced USC head coach Frank Cruz to bring in another reliever. That reliever then walked Beau Amaral on four pitches to force a run in and then he threw balls on the first two pitches to Chris Giovinazzo. At that point, Cruz had seen enough so he went to another reliever. That reliever was betrayed by poor defense as an error allowed a run to score and Giovinazzo to reach, then Cody Keefer hit a fly ball to deep center for a sacrifice fly that put the Bruins up 7-3. By the time the sixth inning came to an end, UCLA hadn't picked up a bit, but they walked four times, got an error and a sacrifice fly to get three runs.
If four consecutive walks and an error wasn't enough help from the Trojans, they offered the Bruins some more in the seventh. Gelalich roped a one-out double to put a man in scoring position for UCLA, but Gelalich was promptly caught napping and picked off of second base At least it appeared he was picked off. Caught between bases, Gelalich got into a run down where the Trojans threw the ball away, allowing Gelalich to take third. A wild pitch followed and Gelalich was able to come in and score for a Trojan assisted run and 8-3 lead.
A lead off double and walk got Cole in seventh inning trouble of his own, but this time he got bailed out with the Bruins still in command. A fielder's choice scored one of the runners for USC and cut the UCLA edge to 8-4, but the Trojans still had a man on and their best hitter, Ricky Oropesa coming to the plate. Oropesa already had two RBI, including a home run, in the game and was USC's top hitter. No matter though because UCLA knew the left-handed hitter could be beaten by good left-handed pitching. The Bruins had dominated him with left-handers several times last season and pulled Cole to bring in a left-hander this time. Beacom entered and completely baffled Oropesa, putting the Trojan away on strikes to end the inning.
USC tried to mount a ninth inning comeback when they picked up a double and walk with two outs to put the tying run on deck. Vander Tuig had entered the game and UCLA no longer had a lefty to get Oropesa when he came up. Vander Tuig didn't quite fool Oropesa as the ball was lifted to deep right center, but Amaral gave chase and was able to track the ball down at the warning track to finish off the win and extend UCLA's recent dominance over USC.
On Saturday (6 pm PDT), Trevor Bauer will look to extend the Bruins' dominance over the crosstown rival even further. The junior has been throwing exceptionally recently, striking out 42 in his last three starts and will need to be on top of his game to beat Logan Odom, who shut down the Bruin offense only two weeks ago.