Jeff Gold pitched brilliantly and Shaun Chase came off the bench for one of the biggest hits in his life to give the Oregon baseball team (17-5, 5-1 Pac-12) a 3-1 win and a series sweep of Utah (9-13, 0-6 Pac-12).
Chase pinch-hit for starting catcher Josh Graham in the bottom of the seventh inning with the score tied 1-1. In a 1-2 count with a runner on third, Chase blasted a Nick Green pitch over the left field wall to give the Ducks a 3-1 lead they’d hold for the duration of the game. It also put Gold in line for the win, his sixth in as many starts (he has a 2.04 ERA with 32 strikeouts and three walks this season).
Gold pitched eight innings, giving up two hits, one unearned run, no walks and striking out three. The Ducks pitching staff gave up just two runs the entire series and neither of them were earned.
“Goldy keeps continuing to impress us as a Sunday starter,” head coach George Horton said.
The first inning on Sunday played out eerily similar to Saturday’s. After Matt Krook hit Utah leadoff hitter Kody Davis in a 1-2 count Saturday to start the game, Jeff Gold hit him with an 0-2 fastball. Both Gold and Oregon head coach George Horton argued that Davis illegally extended his elbow to draw contact, but Davis was still rewarded the base.
“I should’ve just made a better pitch,” Gold said.
Two pitches later, Davis attempted to steal but the Ducks called a pitch-out and Graham threw him out easily. Shortly after that, Cory Hunt hit a double over J.B. Bryant’s head in left field. On the next pitch, Max Schuman struck a softly hit fly to Bryant, who attempted to make a fairly routine running catch. But Bryant dropped it, setting up a first-and-third situation with one out. The next batter Wyler Smith hit a sacrifice fly to left to give the Utes a 1-0 lead, which they’d hold until the seventh.
Gold only made one mistake that first inning (the Hunt double) and finished with 13 pitches and one unearned run allowed. After that, he looked dominant, retiring 15 straight batters and allowing three baserunners (another HBP to Davis, a HBP to Hunter Simmons, a single from Smith) the rest of the way.
Horton said he took a “straw vote” in the dugout after Gold hit Simmons with one out in the eighth, and most players and coaches expected Gold to be taken out. But when Horton visited the mound, several people persuaded him to leave Gold in. A few pitches later, Gold induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
“Fortunately, I have great teammates who lobbied for me to stay in the game,” Gold said. “Minny (third baseman Kevin Minjares) called that double play and he was like, ‘Give me one.’ He was able to clutch up and make a great play.”
The Ducks weren’t producing any offense up to that point. Utah starter Bret Helton retired the first 11 Oregon batters and held the Ducks scoreless through seven.
But the Ducks started a rally in the bottom of the seventh. Kyle Garlick led off with a single and A.J. Balta tried to bunt him over but couldn’t lay one down in play. On a 3-2 pitch, hitting coach Mark Wasikowski let Balta swing and it paid off. Balta smoked a double to right field, scoring Garlick from first to tie the game 1-1.
Bryant came up next and grounded out to second, putting Balta at third. Chase came up next, which also proved to be a good decision by Wasikowski and Jay Uhlman. Chase smoked a 1-2 fastball over the left field fence to give the Ducks a 3-1 lead. It was the first pinch-hit home run of Chase’s career.
“I knew I had to get it out of the infield to score that run, whether it be in the air, up the middle, I had to do something,” Chase said. “They threw me a fastball up in the zone, I just put a short, hard swing on it and it just happened to go out.”
Chase said he hit one game-winning home run before Sunday, a walk-off blast in high school.
“This one felt a lot better,” Chase said.
Horton doesn’t consider Utah a bad team, but he said contenders should expect to sweep the Utes, who currently dwell in the cellar of the Pac-12. Now the Ducks have two days before their next series, which is a two-game road matchup against San Francisco. Tuesday will mark the beginning of a 10-game road trip, Oregon’s first since a seven-game trip from Feb. 14-23 against Hawaii and Loyola Marymount to open the season.
“If we can match our first road trip and be undefeated, I’ll take that right now,” Horton said.
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415