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Published: April 30, 2012
(Image courtesy of Oregon Daily Emerald)
Tonight was one of those games you kind of wanted to lose. You didn’t really want to lose, because they’re your team, after all, but you kind of felt they deserved to lose and it might serve ‘em right to lose after blowing so many scoring opportunities. You were conflicted, to say the least. Leaving so many runners on base inning after inning will do that to a fan. Not capitalizing on opportunities can be grating.
But then the 8th inning came and went, and all those bad feelings went away. The Ducks again loaded the bases, and not only did they load the bases in the 8th, they loaded the bases with Brett Hambright, Connor Hoffman, and Kevin Shephard. Not exactly our murder’s row. But, with one out in the inning, the bottom third of our order found a way to get on base and put the top of our order in a position to win the game. That’s a pretty good situation to be in.
As a fan, and it being the aforementioned 8th inning, one could feel a now-or-never sense of dread creeping into the ballpark. If we blew yet another golden scoring opportunity it wasn’t hard to see a scenario where Cal squeaked out a run in the 9th and ended up escaping with a 3-2 win, spoiling an Alex Keudell gem. AK was unbelievable Friday night, again, but these things can happen.
But all that dread left PK the moment Aaron Payne hit a deep fly ball to right. It was deep enough to score Hambright from third and to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead and advance the other two runners on the throw. The aura of PK went from unease and uncertainty to outright jubilation, because again Alex Keudell was pitching that good and now that he had a lead, there was no way he was allowing Cal to tie (or take the lead) in the 9th. He was going to close out another gem by himself.
And then, of course, Aaron Jones stepped up and drilled a line drive double to left, pushing the lead out to 4-1. And then it was really really over.
Alex Keudell was excellent, again. I say that a lot because it’s true a lot, and he’s having a very special senior season. I like Alex Keudell. He was a walk-on who could have gone elsewhere out of high school, but he chose to walk-on with an upstart program which hadn’t played a baseball game in his lifetime. He then chose to stay with the Ducks after getting drafted in 2011, even after all his friends he entered the program with – fellow pitchers Tyler Anderson and Madison Boer among them – took the money. And now, as a senior, he’s developed into one of the Pac-12’s finest pitchers. If this were football and basketball, he’d be a Joey Harrington. Or a Luke Jackson. An all-time campus legend. But it’s baseball, and baseball isn’t as popular in Eugene as football or basketball. But take note, Duck fans. Alex Keudell is one of those kind of Duck athletes, one that doesn’t show up every year. Appreciate the last month you have to watch him in a Duck uniform.
Tonight, he didn’t look like he had his best stuff early, but because he’s Alex Keudell he was still awesome enough to limit any damage done by the Cal bats. And then when his good stuff did emerge by the 3rd inning, he never looked back. Another complete game by AK, and his 6th straight win.
Aaron Jones is back! You already knew that, of course, and I already mentioned him above, but it’s noteworthy enough to give it it’s own paragraph and to use an exclamation point or two. Aaron Jones is back! He’s DH’ing this weekend, perhaps next weekend as well if his ankle isn’t up to playing the field, but with the only Duck to notch two hits on Friday night, you saw his impact. On a bum ankle with no plate appearances in two weeks, Jones had three huge RBIs.
Brett Thomas also shook off what might have been a concussion in just a couple day’s time, slapping a triple over the center fielder’s head and drawing a walk. Thomas, quietly, has developed into one of Oregon’s finest hitters. He was my choice to bat lead off this year, based off his excellent freshman season in 2011 where he did quite well in the 2-hole. I’m not going to argue where Horton has him batting; I just felt like giving kudos where I feel kudos are due. Oregon is not exactly stacked 1-9 with big power bats, so guys who can hit for average and get on base are at a premium. We have 3, maybe 4 of those guys right now, and one of them (Ryon Healy) is in a slump. Getting Jones back is huge, but having Thomas miss extended time would have been no spring picnic. The kid can play. Not only can he play, as of Friday night, when I’m writing this, he’s second on the team in BA to Jones, fourth in OBP, and he’s got a perfect fielding percentage in the outfield.
The Ducks are 6-1 in Pac-12 Friday games. You know how you excel in conference and win series? You win Fridays. You go into Saturday and Sunday knowing you only need to split to get the series win. It’s a lot harder to win series while dropping the first.
I’m glad I mentioned Brett Thomas last night (above), because Saturday was the Brett Thomas Show, and I don’t want to look like I’m merely jumping on the bandwagon late.
Officially, Thomas was 3/4 Saturday with three doubles. I could have sworn up and down he had a triple, but the scorekeeper must have ruled he took third on the throw. Regardless, Thomas helped carry the offense Saturday afternoon, and he did it while potentially recovering from a concussion. Kudos to you, sir. Kudos to you.
I’m not going to write as much here as I did last night. Re-reading what I wrote last night, I was clearly rambling. I won’t put anyone through that again.
Jake Reed had a very Jake Reedian effort. By that I mean he went 7 innings and allowed two runs; very Jake Reedian, by any definition of the just now made-up phrase. It’s all around solid work. It’s all around spectacular work when one considers that Reed is pitching so well as a freshman in the Pac-12. It’s future ace stuff. You know, very Jake Reedian.
I said Ryon Healy was in a slump last night. Take that, slump! You’ve been jinxed. Healy was 2/4 with a pair of runs scored Saturday, providing that middle-of-the-order production we’ve come to expect. I’m now putting up a slump watch on Kyle Garlick, who has had a tough time figuring out Cal pitching thus far. Perhaps it will have the same affect. Effect? Eh, I’m tired.
Aaron Payne was again the late inning hero, breaking a 2-2 tie in the 7th with an RBI double, driving in Brett Hambright from second.
The Ducks take the series. We’ve got a chance to sweep tomorrow. Jeff Gold will be on the bump. These are facts.
Here are some more facts: this time last year, the Ducks had never swept a Pac-10 opponent in a three-game series (since rebirth). But over the last year, we’ve collected three sweeps: against Oregon State in the 2011 finale, earlier this season against Arizona State, and just a few moments ago against Cal.
Also, another fact (one that doesn’t really mean much, but remains a fact irregardless): with the Vanderbilt and Cal series come and gone, Oregon is 6-0 against 2011 College World Series participants. So… there’s a feather in your cap.
But back to stuff that matters: Jeff Gold allowed a lone earned run in 7 innings pitched, easily the best outing of his career, as Oregon capped off a nice weekend of baseball against the Golden Bears. The offense was good (7 runs on 10 hits), the defense was extraordinary, and the sweep more than satisfying.
Perhaps the nicest thing about it was that it was a series Oregon really needed to win, coming off a series loss to Wazzu last weekend and with that big trip to Tucson looming. It’s easy to hope for a sweep, harder to predict one, harder still to pull it off; but winning the series, especially at home, was more than doable and not only did Oregon do it, they went above and beyond.
This team has bounced back strong from rough patches all season long. Suffice to say, that’s very good. A couple bad losses doesn’t send these kids down a shame spiral that results in a lost month full of frustrating losses. They lose a game, maybe two, hell maybe even three, but they understand that the next time they take the field they have an opportunity to right the ship. That sounds elementary, but not every team has that quality. Some teams see an upcoming set of games as just another set of looming losses. These Ducks lost 4 of 6 during a span of two weekends that encompassed the Nike College Showcase and the Washington series, then rebounded by beating Utah. These Ducks were thumped at Texas State, then responded by winning 12 of 14, taking series from ranked Arizona State, UCLA, and Stanford programs. And now they’ve rebounded from losing three in a row to Wazzu and Oregon State by sweeping a good Cal team. Last year’s team didn’t discover how turn around a bad streak until far too late in the season. This year’s team has never let itself fall into that trap in the first place.
Aaron Payne and Kyle Garlick each collected 3 hits and drove in 3 runs, igniting an offense that plated two early runs in the 1st inning, 3 more in the 4th, and one apiece in the 6th and 7th. Look at that! The Kyle Garlick slump watch (soon to be trademarked?) works again!
Big week ahead for these Ducks. They’ve got two at a good Gonzaga (27-13) team on Tuesday and Wednesday, then trip to Tucson for a series that could decide the Pac-12 title. Really no additional hype necessary for that one. Next weekend is the reason why Oregon brought back baseball.
More facts: Oregon has won 30 games for the third straight season. That’s not a small feat, especially considering those 30+ wins have come in years 2, 3, and 4 of our revival. Cal, Washington, Washington State, and USC can’t say they’ve won 30 games or more in 3 straight seasons.
Late Monday night edit fact: Aaron Payne is your Pac-10 Player of the Week.