If Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer have been UCLA’s twin aces this season, Rob Rasmussen has been the Bruins’ trump card.
When Cole and Bauer got the ball on Friday and Saturday and all the ink and the love and the attention, Rasmussen waited his turn patiently. Sunday was his day. He owned it. He tucked Monday through Saturday in the back of his mind, went through the motions and waited for Sunday.
It is not his day of rest.
Rasmussen was again masterful on Sunday, throwing a two-hitter to lead the Bruins to an 8-1 win over Cal State Fullerton in the deciding game of the Los Angeles Super Regional in front of 1,967 fans at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Now UCLA is headed to Omaha for the first time since 1997, the final College World Series at historic Rosenblatt Stadium awaiting.
“It was unbelievable – they ended our season my freshman year, and it left a bitter taste in all of our mouths,” Rasmussen said. “Once we made that comeback yesterday, I just knew. I said to myself, ‘Please, for Fullerton’s sake, don’t give me the ball.’ I want this. I want this really bad because of what they did.”
Rasmussen certainly made the Titans pay for knocking the Bruins out of the 2008 regional at Fullerton.
The 73rd pick of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft allowed just two hits and walked one, striking out nine in his first career complete game, while dealing just 112 pitches.
So while UCLA baseball coach John Savage may say “it’s all about the team,” Rasmussen reminded fans that it is the team’s incredible pitching depth that has carried them through the season.
“That’s why we’ve won I think 18 out of 20 weekends – whenever you can go on and lose two series all season, I think you can say you’re starting pitching is as good as there is out there,” Savage said. “This is a special year. These types of pitching staffs don’t come around very often. Guys do leave, they don’t sign 10-year contracts. Unfortunately, they sign three-year contracts. Not every year is like this. When you have a year like this, you better make it count.”
On Sunday, UCLA’s offense certainly made the most of the opportunity – but Fullerton foibles sure helped.
Tyler Rahmatulla was again the lucky beneficiary of Titan miscues, hitting a liner straight to Fullerton centerfielder Joey Siddons that Siddons dropped, scoring two Bruins in the bottom of the third inning, after Beau Amaral staked the team a 1-0 lead earlier in the inning with an RBI single.
In the 10th inning of UCLA’s 11-7 win on Saturday night, Rahmatulla’s drove in two with a misplayed pop-up to rightfielder Casey Watkins.
“After last night was a tough game from both sides, we just felt that whoever when out and threw the first punches was going to end up on top,” said Bruins leadoff hitter Beau Amaral, who went 3-4 with a home run and three RBIs. “Momentum is a big thing in baseball – but being able to score runs late in the game really made it a lot easier.”
With Rasmussen dealing, the Bruins took what they could off Fullerton starter Dylan Floro.
The Fullerton starter, who managed a 7-1 record despite a .279 batting average against and low strikeout numbers, flourished early, retiring the first seven Bruin batters, inducing four groundouts and striking out two.
But after the three runs in the third, UCLA added two more in a crucial sixth-inning spurt.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s one of those things you have to work through being a pitcher,” a gracious Floro said after the game. “I was throwing pitches low and they were getting runs around. He was getting outs and they were going right to guys. Not much else you can do.”