Diamond Ducks: OSU, USC Can’t Solve PK

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DucksAttack.com

Published: May 16, 2012

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I wrote down some thoughts after each game finished over the last week. These thoughts and a nickel will buy you something for five cents, but thanks for reading them all the same.

Oregon 3, Oregon State 2

Non-league wins aren’t supposed to feel this good, right? Maybe – sweeping Vandy sure was fun. But this was a really fun game. Two things stand out:

Thing the First: Tommy Thorpe. In his first ever collegiate start, the freshman was dominant over his 4 innings, allowing a mere base hit and a walk. You know Jake Reed because he’s been an excellent Saturday starter for us. You know Jordan Spencer because he’s made 5 spot starts and some relief appearances, including that no-hitter against Portland. You know Scott Heineman and Thomas Walker and Shaun Chase because of their contributions in the field and at the plate. But the freshman you may not be as familiar with is Tommy Thorpe, and that’s a shame, because he’s been very, very good for us. On talent, he should probably be getting all those starts Spencer has been picking up, but Thorpe has proven so valuable as a weekend set-up reliever for Jimmy Sherfy it’s been hard to get him a start. But he got one Tuesday, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. It will be interesting to track Thorpe’s career here; he could very well end up going the route of Brando Tessar, who was excellent in 12 relief appearances (and 1 midweek start) as a freshman before joining the starting rotation as a sophomore. Or maybe he’ll stick in the bullpen and form a dominant tandem with Sherfy again next season, and take over as closer the year after. All I know is that we have a freshman performing at a very high level, and I think he’s flying well under the radar. He’ll be a big piece for us moving forward.

Thing the Second: We beat the ‘Beavs! It’s still fun for me. Yes, some of it comes as a result of their fans, those who didn’t think Oregon baseball would be any good for 4-5 years and then bam! 40 wins in Year 2, and a rivalry was born. If you take away the 2009 season, which any logical person likely should, the baseball Civil War is knotted up evenly at 5-5 since our rebirth. Our 2010 season was marred with those three walk-off losses in Goss, and last year, of course, we kept the Beavs from winning the Pac-10 championship with a sweep at PK. These games matter, and they’re fun as hell.

Oregon 4, USC 3

This was one of those games where you walked out of PK thinking Oregon really did a number on SC, then remember it was only a one run game.

Aaron Jones went yard in the 3rd and Ryon Healy and Brett Thomas helped drive in three during a big 5th inning, but that was it for runs. It just didn’t feel like it. Trojan 3B Kevin Swick dropped a routine infield fly that allowed two Ducks to get into scoring position in the 2nd, but the clutch hit never came. We loaded the bases in the 6th and 7th innings, to no avail. Two runners got on safely in the 8th, nadda. It was just one of those games. 10 hits and 6 walks? A lot of Duck on the base paths today, just a lot of runners stranded. Thirteen, in fact. Lucky thirteen.

But continuing the 2012 theme of doing just enough to get by, we did just enough to get by. Four runs on an Alex Keudell start is typically three runs more than we need, but today it was just enough. AK wasn’t his best, laboring through his 6.1, but in true ace form he didn’t allow a poor outing (for him) to cost the team. He limited the damage and the offense did just enough to win. And, just to put it out there, 3 runs in 6.1 innings isn’t a ‘poor’ outing. It’s considered a quality start, in fact. We’ve just seen AK in superhuman mode over the last two months, and today he was merely human.

AK won his 8th straight start. Eight straight series-opening wins for the Ducks. No better stat to explain Oregon’s 2012 success in the Pac-12 then that.

JJ Altobelli played his first full game since his injury. He went 1/4 and played a flawless shortstop. Interesting (to me, at least) is that Coach Horton had him in the 9-hole. Alto started the first 35 games of the season batting leadoff. During that time, I argued that Aaron Payne would be better served batting leadoff, considering Payne has a stellar OBP and Alto isn’t the most patient of hitters. Unless you’re Ichiro, a team usually needs its leadoff hitter to take the occasional walk and set the table for their power bats. Alto is a fine hitter, he’s just not your traditional leadoff guy. Payne’s won consecutive Pac-12 Player of the Week awards over the last two weeks for his work batting leadoff. It’ll be interesting to see if Horton will eventually move Alto back to his former spot once the rust has come off, or if he’ll keep Payne there.

Is it weird that I’m interested by that kind of stuff? Eh, probably.

Brett Thomas and Ryon Healy had 3 and 2-hit games, respectively. Man, is Thomas hitting everything or what these days? He’s now hitting a team-leading .321, and is second on the team in total base hits (to Healy, who has 9 more starts). Thomas leads the Ducks in both doubles and triples. He took awhile to get going this season and didn’t start as many games in the outfield as Horton was looking for the right lineup early (hence the 9 fewer starts than Healy, who has started every game), but he’s entrenched himself in the middle of the order over the last few months.

If you’re wondering, only Healy and Payne have started all 50 games for Oregon this season. You probably weren’t wondering about that, but now you know. Consider it a freebie.

Tommy Thorpe pitched a solid inning of relief, obviously inspired by my little pep talk above. He took over for AK with two outs in the 7th, and gave way to Jimmy Sherfy with two outs in the 8th. Sherfy recorded the final four outs, all of them strikeouts, to end things. His 9th inning stuff was as filthy as it’s been all year.

For those keeping score at home, the Ducks have 5 Pac-12 games left and are still in first place.

Oregon 4, USC 2

The only downside to Jake Reed this season is that he hadn’t really been hit hard, so we didn’t really know how he’d respond once he had. That’s not really much of a downside at all, if you think about it, but y’know. It’s a talking point, at least.

And then, last week in Tucson, he got hit hard. Really hard. And we, or at least I, spent the last week wondering how he’d respond. Some freshmen can’t shake off a bad start, and it bleeds over into the next. Hell, some seniors can’t shake a bad start. How would Jake Reed respond to the worst outing of his career?

Really well, apparently. He scattered four hits and two runs over 7 complete innings, coasting without incident, or many base runners, from the 3rd through 6th. He was in full command.

Thorpe and Sherfy took care of the 8th and 9th innings. Remember the bullpen last season? This is exactly the kind of game we would have lost in 2011. Our offensive stats from this year to last are nearly identical, and our starting staff  was just as dominant last year… but those 11 blown leads in the 8th inning or later are what separates that 33-win team from a club that’s already won 37 games with two-plus weeks left in the regular season. It’s nice to have guys you can count on late, no?

So, look at that. 37-14. Another series win. Still in first place, with four conference games remaining.

As far as I know, Jeff Gold wasn’t officially tabbed as tomorrow’s starter. Which would seem to hint that, even if he does end up making the start, Brando Tessar isn’t far from coming back, since Tessar is the only other logical candidate to start. If Tessar was easily ruled out of this weekend’s action, naming Gold the starter for the finale would be a no-brainer, and Horton isn’t one to play mind games with the opposition. He’s more of the “here’s what we got, try to beat us” type. So… yeah. If not this weekend, perhaps we’ll see Tessar against Seattle U.

Oregon 6, USC 3

Yep, there’s that Jeff Gold kid again. And look at that! There’s another Jeff Gold win. Three in a row, in fact.

This was a really fun game. It was also a very important game; the Ducks may have had a small overall lead in the Pac-12 race, but since we’re tied in the loss column with Arizona, a loss would have really stung. It wasn’t lose-and-go-home, but it was lose-and-add-unneeded-pressure-on-yourself.

Here’s the thing about this win: it wasn’t easy. Our best pitcher wasn’t going, and USC had a standout on the bump. We were behind early, caught up, then fell behind again. We looked lethargic. But we won anyway. We rallied in the face of some pressure and won a game we didn’t absolutely have to have but really wanted all the same.

I’m not really going to get too into the third game. We won, they lost, good times were had. Gold was pretty good, our excellent relievers were excellent yet again (seriously, does it get better than Housey/Thorpe/Sherfy?). We rallied. Rather than dwell further on what’s already transpired, here’s what is coming up:

Seattle U hits Eugene Friday-Sunday. Seattle is 22-24; not a terrible record, especially since they restarted their program right around the time we did. We’re both infant ball clubs. We just happen to have more resources. They’re 1-1 against Washington this season, 1-3 against Wazzu. They’ve taken a weekend series from a pretty solid Nevada team.

Perhaps just as interesting is what’s happening around the Pac-12. We are in a title race, after all. Current standings (relevant standings, anyway):

Oregon 19-8

Arizona 16-8

UCLA 15-9

Stanford 14-10

Arizona State 14-10

Oregon State 13-11

Best case scenario: while we’re playing host to Seattle U, Arizona drops a couple games at USC. It wouldn’t hurt for UCLA, who is tripping to Cal, to lose a few, too. The bottom line is that we control our own destiny: we sweep OSU, we’re Pac-12 champs. Arizona can mathematically tie us atop the conference, but we own the tiebreaker. We win out, we’re golden. But that’s a tall order, especially considering Oregon State isn’t going to give us an inch in two weeks. Not in Goss, not after what we did to them last year, not with us trying to win a conference title in just our fourth season. And, if Oregon State can sweep Washington State up in Pullman this weekend (tall order), they’d still be mathematically alive for the championship, too.

 

 


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