Despite some ninth inning drama, the UCLA bullpen was fantastic again (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
The game started with two runs for Stanford and ended with the bases full of Cardinals. It was enough to give UCLA fans a heart attack, but everything between the top of the first and top of the ninth was all Bruins. Heart attack or not, Bruin fans left Jackie Robinson Stadium on Saturday with smiles on their faces as UCLA took down Stanford, 7-4, to even the series and move back within one game of Arizona and Oregon for first place in the Pac-12.
Eight hits won't impress many people, but the Bruins were much better at the plate than their eight hits indicate. They worked six walks and were hit by three more pitches and tormented Stanford pitchers all game. Cody Keefer led the way with three hits, while Beau Amaral added two hits, a walk and two runs scored of his own. Trevor Brown padded his team-leading RBI total with two more on Saturday and Tyler Heineman scored twice as, once again, the top half of the lineup led the way.
The slow start, tough finish, splendid in between way the Bruins played today was truest in Nick Vander Tuig. The right-hander was hit hard and gave up two runs in the first inning and the final two batters he faced took him deep for back-to-back home runs, but in between he was better than he's been all season. He mowed down the Cardinal from the second through fifth innings and into the sixth as part as 5.2 innings of four-run ball. Vander Tuig also struck out five on the afternoon to earn the win and improve to 5-3 on the year. Once again, the bullpen was splendid as David Berg threw 1.1 shutout innings and Ryan Deeter worked a perfect eighth before handing the ball to Scott Griggs, who made things interesting with three walks, but did strike out two to record his ninth save on the season.
It looked like Vander Tuig would be in for a long day from the start. The first batter laced one into right center that Amaral had to make a wonderful play on to get the out and Vander Tuig followed that up by hitting a batter. A single followed and after a fielder's choice, Brian Ragira smoked one off of the wall in right center for a two-RBI double that put the Cardinal in front early.
Down two without having had the chance to hit, UCLA took advantage of their first opportunity to grab the bats, although they did most of their damage by just standing there. Amaral walked and Heineman was hit by a pitch, then with one out, Gelalich walked to load up the bases. The Bruins then caught a break when Brown hit one to second base that looked like a sure-fire double play, only it took an unusually high bounce to get over the second baseman's head for a RBI single. Zeile then just watched four balls to force another run in before a wild pitch scored another to give UCLA a 3-2 lead. Pat Valaika followed with a groundout to shortstop, scoring Brown and the bruins had a four-run first inning to claim the lead.
Once he had the lead, Vander Tuig settled in. He pitched a perfect second and two-out walk in the third wasn't any trouble. Kevin Wiliams dropped the feed at second base on a double play ball to put two Cardinals on base with only one out in the fourth, but even then, Vander Tuig got an infield fly and strike out to escape the jam.
While Vander Tuig was putting away Stanford batters left and right, the UCLA offense had gone cold, but they found their way again in the fifth. It started with Williams getting hit by a pitch and after Amaral bunted for a single and Heineman walked, the Bruins had the bases juiced with nobody out. Keefer then singled to left, scoring Williams, before Brown walked with one out to force another run in. Leading 6-2, the Bruins had a chance to put the Cardinal away with the bases still loaded and only one out, but a foul out and groundout ended the inning with nobody else across and Stanford still in the game.
With the way Vander Tuig was pitching, it looked like it wouldn't matter anyways and he kept it up with two quick outs to start the sixth. Then, out of nowhere, the Cardinal figured Vander Tuig out away. First, Austin Wilson launched a monster shot out to left field, then two pitches later, Danny Diekroeger got a hold of one of his own for back-to-back home runs. That marked the end of Vander Tuig's day as Berg entered for him and the Cardinal were right back on the Bruins' heels at 6-4.
UCLA was able to add to their lead after the seventh inning stretch, but again, it came with a "what if". Heineman doubled to lead off the inning and was followed up by a Keefer single to put men on the corners. Gelalich then picked up a base hit of his own, scoring Heineman to give the Bruins a 7-4 lead. After a Eric Filia-Snyder walk, UCLA had the bases loaded with one out for Valaika, who hit a fly ball to center, but Keefer was thrown out at the plate trying to tag and it felt like another opportunity lost.
After that play at the plate, Stanford came to the plate in the eighth with a really good chance to build on their momentum and flip the game, which looked even more likely after a lead off single. That's when Deeter buckled down and came up big, inducing a double play and then a ground out to get out of the inning. More importantly, it killed the Cardinal's momentum.
Griggs came on to close things out in the ninth inning and it looked like it would be an easy one after he got a strike out and a fly out, then had the third man in the frame down 0-2. That's when the junior lost it, though. He walked that batter, threw two wild pitches in walking the next man and then walked a third consecutive batter, bringing up Stanford's biggest power hitter, Alex Blandino, as the go-ahead run. But facing real trouble, with Grant Watson up in the bullpen ready to come in and the UCLA fans a nervous wreck, Griggs made three great pitches to strike out Blandino and finish up a testy Bruin victory.