Staring at the possibility of a 3-game losing streak, as well as dropping a Pac-12 series, Arizona needed someone to right the ship.
In other words, #Gary.
Senior left-hander Garrett Irvin held UCLA in check over 7.2 innings, retiring the first 14 batters he faced, helping Arizona beat the Bruins 4-2 on Saturday night at Hi Corbett Field. The win evened the 3-game series at one apiece, with the rubber match set for Sunday at 12 p.m. PT.
Irvin allowed a run on three hits and three walks with six strikeouts, throwing 111 pitches to improve to 3-1 this season. Arizona (17-6, 6-2 Pac-12) is 22-6 in games Irvin as started over the past three seasons, and the Wildcats have won five of six games when Irvin starts the day after a UA loss.
“Not that I prefer at all to lose the first game, but the one benefit would be that we all really want to win game two,” Irvin said. “Especially after last night ... everyone’s fired up and makes me fired up and want to put up a zero. I think you could feel the energy in the dugout, where it’s not like our backs are against the wall, but it’s more like everyone almost plays more aggressively.”
Irvin had command of his fastball, change-up and curve—the curve was the one he said was his best this week, after it was the change-up last week against Stanford—and the ability to throw any in any count kept UCLA (14-8, 2-3) off balance.
“He’s a true pitcher, and I’m sure at the next level he’s going to get an opportunity,” head coach Chip Hale.
Irvin’s run came after he exited in the top of the eighth with a 4-0 lead and righty Trevor Long threw a wild pitch and gave up a single. Closer Holden Christian started the ninth, which led to some unintended drama when he walked the first two batters and then allowed a single to load the bases with no out.
After the second walk the bullpen scrambled to get righty Quinn Flanagan ready. Hale said he wanted Christian to finish but wasn’t going to jeopardize a win, as was the case two weeks ago when the lefty gave up four in the bottom of the ninth to lose at Cal.
“We’re not gonna lose a game, like at Cal, where we we sort of said okay, he’s our guy, he’s our closer, we’re gonna live or die,” Hale said. “We have to do it for the team. So we had somebody ready and he sucked it up and got three outs in a row.”
Christian got a sacrifice fly, which brought in a run to make it 4-2, and then struck out the next batter—not before throwing behind him, as he did to the first batter he faced—before getting a game-ending groundout.
“That’s how closers are,” Hale said. “There’s not many closers, even in the major leagues, that you’re not on that top step for. Because they have really, really good stuff. They got really really good stuff, but it can always be a little bit wild, too.”
At the plate, Arizona scored three in the bottom of the first on 2-out singles by Mac Bingham and Noah Turley, then made it 4-0 in the third on an RBI triple from Tony Bullard. The Wildcats had 11 hits but also struck out 10 times for the 12th time this season and were 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 3 with runners on third and less than two out.
“We can do better,” Hale said. “And I know the only reason we’re struggling that situation, number one, the guys are doing a good job pitching against us. But the second thing is we’re just getting too uptight, and the anxiety is getting to us. Once we relax and let our talent take over I think we’ll get those guys in without much problem.”