STANFORD “”mdash; The game was theirs for the taking. Taking a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, the UCLA baseball team looked poised to win its fifth consecutive Pac-10 series against a Stanford team that struggled to hit the ball for the “rubber” game’s first eight innings.
But two outs, three pitchers and thousands of chewed fingernails later, it was the Stanford Cardinal celebrating a walk-off single that won them the game and the series Saturday at Sunken Diamond.
Freshman Adam Plutko was phenomenal through six and a third innings, allowing just one run on four hits. But after a short relief effort from redshirt junior Mitchell Beacom, the implosion began.
Freshman closer Nick Vander Tuig got two quick outs in the ninth against the first two batters. The elusive last out, however, was much harder to come by than the first two. Vander Tuig allowed two singles, a double and gave up a walk to tie the game before getting yanked in favor of Tuesday starter, freshman Zack Weiss.
Weiss walked two more Cardinal (19-13, 5-7 Pac-10) to load the bases, forcing UCLA coach John Savage to bring in redshirt junior Brandon Lodge to try to send it to extras. Lodge worked a full count on Stanford cleanup man sophomore Kenny Diekroeger. Diekroeger took the 3-2 offering and blooped a single to shallow center field to win it for the Cardinal.
“It was a funny play,” Savage said. “I thought it was a routine fly ball and for whatever reason it dropped, but it should have never gotten to that point. We walked two in a row so we couldn’t finish, and that’s the bottom line.”
“We were playing pretty deep because he was their four-hole hitter,” sophomore center fielder Beau Amaral added. “We were back, and he couldn’t have put it in a more perfect spot.”
The series loss is UCLA’s (21-14, 10-5) first in Pac-10 play and its first since the Dodgertown Classic weekend March 11-13.
“It hurts,” Savage said. “It’s one that’s got to last for a day, and then we’ve got to get after it again on Monday.”
Friday’s game at Sunken Diamond was a different story for the No. 20 Bruins as junior pitcher Trevor Bauer matched his career high in strikeouts with 17 on his way to helping the Bruins earn a 4-1 victory.
In usual Trevor Bauer fashion, the nation’s strikeout leader wasn’t thrilled with the career outing.
“I didn’t throw any changeups,” he said. “My curveball wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I just happened to have control of two pitches and it worked out for me.”
Friday’s win was overshadowed by the two losses that sandwiched Bauer’s strikeout-fest. Junior Gerrit Cole was tagged with his second consecutive loss Thursday.
Savage is confident in his team’s ability to bounce back, and UCLA is going to have to with a Tuesday-night home game with UC Irvine followed by a series with No. 3 Oregon State.
“We’re fine,” Savage said. “It was a tough loss, but we’ll bounce back. If you don’t know how to handle this, then you’re in the wrong league.”