As he stood on the mound in the ninth inning, Oregon starter Alex Keudell glanced at the bullpen and knew what was coming. It didn’t matter that he was working on a complete game shutout of Oregon State, that he had given up just two hits while recording the game’s first 26 outs. There were more important matters at hand.
Head coach George Horton had one last senior to take care of.
Already, seniors Shawn Peterson and Mitch Karraker had been given one last chance to play in front of their home crowd. With 3,445 in attendance, both had registered hits in at least one at bat, and Peterson even scored one of the game’s six runs.
Out in the bullpen, Kellen Moen waited. He had already been honored with his family during the senior day pre-game ceremonies, but with Keudell on such a roll for the Ducks, what reason was there to bring him in? For all he knew, his last action as an Oregon Duck had already come and passed.
Horton had other ideas. It was, in his words, a “tough call,” because Keudell was in the midst of a career day. On any other afternoon, the game would have been his to finish. Senior Day was different.
“My mission was to get all three seniors in,” Horton said.
A groundout and a flyout produced the first two outs of the ninth. It was decision time.
Sure enough, pitching coach Andrew Checketts emerged from the dugout and headed out to the mound. He signaled toward the bullpen, and there it was: one last chance for Moen to pitch in the stadium he had called home for the last two years.
The Juneau, Ala., native spent his first two college seasons at El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., before transferring to Oregon, but that did nothing to dampen the moment. This would be his final appearance alongside teammates who meant the world to him; one last outing in a season that saw him lead the team with eight saves and hold opponents to a .185 batting average.
Recognizing the moment, P.A. announcer Malachi Lewis urged the crowd to their feet.
“Everybody on the feet for number 26: Kellen Moen!”
His first pitch to Oregon State’s Kavin Keyes was called a strike, drawing a quick cheer from the crowd. The next was a ball in the dirt, and Keyes followed that with a looping foul ball down the third base line. Finally, after running the count to 2-2, Keyes blasted a screaming line drive that ricocheted right off of Moen’s back and turned into an infield single.
This wasn’t going to be easy.
Checketts quickly checked to make sure Moen hadn’t been injured. After being cleared to go, Moen was left to face off with first baseman Jared Norris. The count quickly ran to 2-0, but after a foul ball, Moen finally got what he wanted.
Norris skied a ball to left field. It was well hit, but leftfielder Brett Thomas needed only to backtrack a few steps to his left to get under it. He wrapped it in his glove, and there it was.
Kellen Moen had gone out on top.
It was an unforgettable moment for the senior and not without its fair share of raw emotion. There was happiness and jubilation, sure, but it was also overwhelming for Moen to consider the gesture from his head coach.
“It was really cool, I really liked it,” Moen said after the game. “I think one of the reasons I was so sad at the end is because he let me throw the last out. You know, I thought that was pretty cool.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for Horton, but he knew it was the right thing to do. Moen deserved a proper exit.
“That was a tough call,” Horton said, “because Alex could have gone CG, complete game shutout. There was some of us that wanted that to happen, so Alex kind of took a bullet for the senior.”
Keudell certainly wanted to finish the game off. Few pitchers in their right mind would willingly exit a game after so thoroughly dominating the action. But the junior also understood what needed to happen.
“I’m glad he got to finish the game,” Keudell said. “He deserves it.”
Watching from second base, junior Danny Pulfer could hardly believe his eyes.
“The energy in that ninth inning was unreal,” Pulfer said. “And I’m so proud of our seniors, Shawn, Mitch, Kellen.”
His voice began to break.
“And it was just so special for Mitch to get his first hit of the season, so special for Shawn to get a hit in his last at bat at PK Park, and to Kellen to get the last out.
“It’s a fairy tale ending.”