The 2011 UCLA baseball season was defined by two things. One is Trevor Bauer. The junior capped off his career in Westwood with one of the best seasons any collegiate pitcher has ever had. From the very start of the season until his last appearance in a Bruin uniform, Bauer was dominant and unsurprisingly, UCLA was dominant on days he pitched. Saturday became the day to be at the ballpark. To see Bauer's unusual warm up, to see the faded cap, to see him throw yet another complete game. Jackie Robinson Stadium became a place to see baseball magic on Saturday afternoons.
The problem is the other thing that the Bruins' season was defined by and that was missed opportunities. Game after game, UCLA left men on base. When they got enough runs to score their inexperienced and undermanned bullpen couldn't hold a lead. Coming off of an appearance in the 2010 College World Series championship series and returning most of their team, UCLA was supposed to be back in Omaha this season. Instead, the season ended at home, four wins away from Omaha and nine wins away from bringing home the first baseball title in UCLA history.
A look at the offensive numbers tells everything one needs to know about what could have been with this Bruin team. Their regular season average of 4.6 runs per game was 249th in the nation. In 34 of their regular season games they scored four runs or fewer and they had a team batting average of just .263. Those are not the most telling numbers though. The 8.14 men left on base per game is. Over the course of an entire season, the Bruins averaged leaving a man on base almost every inning.
When the Bruins' season came to an end at the Los Angeles Regional, it did so in an exact microcosm of the season and not just in the final game. All four games that UCLA played in the postseason perfectly typified the entire season.
It started with the Bruins as the Regional's number one seed at home, but failing to come through with the bats. It is no different than a home series loss to San Jose St. or losing two of three in the Dodgertown Classic. UCLA was favored and they were at home, but they couldn't score enough to get it done. It was also no surprise that they could not manage a single run against San Francisco. After all, Gerrit Cole was pitching, the man they couldn't provide any run support for all season long.
With their backs against the wall and facing elimination, UCLA sent Bauer to the mound against Fresno St. Unsurprisingly, the Bruins got a spectacular performance from Bauer as he shut down one of the top offenses on the west coast. Also unsurprisingly, the game was closer than it had to be because the Bruins left man after man on base. Against the Bulldogs they left 14 on base and scored just three runs, but with Bauer on the mound it was enough.
Facing elimination once again, UCLA got a spectacular performance for Adam Plutko. The freshman was great all season, putting together a 2.01 ERA, and gave the Bruins 7.2 innings of one-hit ball in his first postseason appearance as UCLA faced San Francisco again. Eight stranded runners made the game closer than it had be though and when Plutko exited, the Bruins had to go to one of the two dependable relievers they had. The Bruins won, but they had to come back for another game.
Another game, another tremendous pitching performance from the Bruins and yet UCLA was back in trouble. This time they left 13 runners on base and despite getting a career-high eight innings from freshman Zack Weiss, they had just a one run lead at 3-2. They had to go back to the bullpen and remember those two dependable relievers? One of them was hurt so they had to go to the reliever they had used earlier in the day. Unsurprisingly, the Bruins lost their lead and the season came to an end.
Missed opportunities, whether at the plate or at the end of games, did the Bruins in this season. Cole, for the talk about his midseason swoon, still had a fine season. Bauer was incredible on Saturdays and Plutko had one of the best seasons any freshman pitcher has ever had on Sundays. The Bruins had a 2.44 team ERA, the lowest of any UCLA team since college baseball went to metal bats yet one week into June and their season is over.
In 15 years though, there won't be much talk about the missed opportunities. Nobody will be able to remember how many men the Bruins left on base. The 2011 season will be remembered for Bauer. It was be remembered for a 13-2 record and 1.25 ERA. For a Pac-10 single-season record of 203 strikeouts and for a season in which Bauer became the Bruins' all-time leader in strikeouts and wins. People will remember his nine consecutive complete games, Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year award and Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year award.
The season will be remembered for Bauer and the record books will confirm that. The record books will be filled with Bauer's exploits years from now because frankly, there is not a single reason to believe that Bauer's records will be broken any time soon. And when people turn to the record books to see how the team did, the first outright Pac-10 title since 1986 isn't the worst accomplishment in what some might call a disappointing season either.