OMAHA, Neb. – John Savage had to be kicking himself.
He gambled on his rotation in UCLA’s opening game of the College World Series against the Florida Gators and it exploded in his face.
Trevor Bauer, starting instead of Gerrit Cole, was shaky, nervous and flustered. He looked frazzled, his mind a cluttered mess, the hot sun pounding every pore, his sweat sweating.
For one at-bat.
Bauer walked the first Florida batter, allowed two first-inning runs, and then settled down to shut down the Gators, 11-3, in front of 23,271.
The Hart of Santa Clarita product surrendered six hits and three runs while striking out 11 in seven innings, setting a new UCLA single-season record with 152 punchouts.
“It’s definitely tougher leading off, first game jitters, obviously playing in such a great venue here,” Bauer said. “You kind of get a game under your belt and you feel more relaxed, you’ve kinda gone through it once. For me, it was just another game, trying to execute pitches, go one at a time, and let the results be what they are.”
While Bauer was increasingly stable, Florida’s pitchers grew more erratic with time. The Gators allowed 18 hits, hit four UCLA batters and committed four wild pitches while facing 51 batters. Starting pitcher Alex Panteliodis was the primary culprit, allowing five runs, four earned, on five hits in 3 1/3 innings, exiting after just 61 total pitches.
“We pecked away at them,” Savage said. “We didn’t have a home run all night, but it was a typical game offensively for us in terms of (using) the middle of the field. We kept coming – we had two outs, nobody on, and we scored a run. I think we wore their starting pitcher down a little bit, and then we got to their bullpen.”
It was a balanced attack by the UCLA offense – five Bruins had multi-hit games and nine batters had hits, as the team scored runs in all but the second inning. Leadoff man Niko Gallego led the way with four hits and two runs, but catcher Steve Rodriguez’s two hits, two runs and two RBIs out of the nine-hole were equally impressive.
A tell-tale sign of domination: UCLA left 13 runners on base and still scored 11 runs, its highest total in five College World Series games, and its first CWS win in program history.
“Going into it, we had an approach of taking the fastball away and staying with it up the middle, the middle to right side of the field,” Gallego said. “I think we just saw the ball well. (Panteliodis) is a great pitcher, and we knew he was a great pitcher, and we just tried to battle him.”
With the win, the Bruins advance to face Texas Christian, which dismantled Florida State, 8-1, in the early game on Saturday. Cole will get his chance against the Horned Frogs on Monday, with the winner waiting until Friday for the chance to advance to the CWS championship series.
“It was a tough decision,” Savage said of going with Bauer. “Gerrit has started Friday all season long, and that’s the one thing: We’ve been very consistent, we’ve been very disciplined on the pitching side of it. We went with the hunch, went with the matchup. It could have backfired. Trevor upheld his end of the deal.”