Starting pitcher Mitch Watrous was dealing all night for the Utah baseball team (9-11, 04 Pac-12), but one mistake in the bottom of the eighth inning cost his team a chance at beating Oregon (15-5, 3-1).
With two outs and runners at first and second, Watrous threw a wild pitch that bounced towards the Utah dugout. The runner on second, Nick Catalano, was waved home. The throw to home beat Catalano, but catcher Konnor Armijo couldn’t corral it, so the Ducks took a 1-0 lead that they’d maintain for their first victory in the three-game series versus the Utes this weekend at PK Park.
“It was obviously a pitchers’ duel, Friday night, Pac-12 deal, and we killed them 1-0,” Oregon head coach George Horton said after the game.
The game flew by in two hours and one minute (the shortest of the season for Oregon) thanks to stellar performances from Watrous and Oregon starting pitcher Tommy Thorpe.
Thorpe threw eight innings on Friday night, giving up three hits and no walks while striking out five. He also retired the first 14 Utah batters until Wyler Smith came up to the plate with two outs in the fifth. Smith laid down a bunt that rolled down the third base line. For a second, the ball looked like it would scoot foul, but it changed course and stayed in play.
“A little bit of me was like, ‘Oh, there goes the no-hitter or possibly even the perfect game,’” Thorpe said. “But then again, that’s not going to happen very often, so I’ve got to take it and roll with it.”
Bunting to break up a perfect game and/or no-hitter is considered breaking an unwritten rule in many baseball circles, but none of the Oregon players nor head coach George Horton expressed anger towards Smith for bunting in that situation, especially because it was only the fifth inning.
“I would not be offended if a team bunted if I had a guy throwing a no-hitter in the eighth and ninth inning,” Horton said. “It’s part of the game, especially in a 0-0 game.”
Tyler Baumgartner drove a deep double to left in the first inning for Oregon’s first hit, but Watrous shut the Ducks down thereafter. He retired the next 11 Oregon batters and even the hit to end that streak was a softly hit groundball from J.B. Bryant that shortstop Cory Hunt couldn’t handle.
“His stuff was tremendous,” Oregon catcher Shaun Chase said of Watrous. “His slider was never a consistent speed, he flipped in a curveball once in a while and he had a good changeup.”
Watrous gave up two hits after Bryant’s, but the last one proved costly.
Chase smoked a line drive past third baseman Biss Larson with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Catalano pinch-ran for Chase and stole second on a botched hit-and-run with pinch-hitter Steven Packard. Packard walked shortly after, but the next batter Aaron Payne struck out to make it two outs with runners on first and second. Watrous threw his fateful wild pitch the next at-bat with Austin Grebeck in the batter’s box. Catalano said he wasn’t planning on going home until he saw the sign from third base coach Jay Uhlman to keep running.
“I saw coach Uhlman wheeling me in because he had a better angle,” Catalano said. “So, I decided to just go for it and trust him.”
When asked if he would’ve also scored from second on the wild pitch, Chase immediately said, “No.”
“I’m glad I got pinch-run for,” Chase said.
This is the second time this season Catalano has scored a game-winning run from second on a wild pitch. During the first game of the season on Feb. 14 at Hawaii, Catalano walked with two outs in the top of ninth inning and moved to second on a walk to A.J. Balta. Hawaii’s Jordan DuPont got Scott Heineman to strike out swinging but catcher Trevor Podratz couldn’t control the pitch. The ball rolled to the backstop, allowing Heineman to safely get to first and Catalano to race in to score from second, putting the Ducks up 3-2.
Jake Reed, like he did on Feb. 14, came in for the ninth. Reed replaced Thorpe, who Horton said wasn’t going to pitch in the ninth regardless of how the eighth played out.
“The fact that we scored a run on a wild pitch, I think the game rewarded him for how well he pitched,” Horton said.
Reed pitched a 1-2-3 inning to preserve Thorpe’s third win of the year.
“He had command of all four of his pitches,” Chase said of Thorpe. “I think the better pitcher won tonight.”
The Ducks and Utes will play the second game of their three-game series tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415