CWS Game Six: UCLA 6, Texas Christian 3

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With ace Gerrit Cole dealing, UCLA was in excellent position with a 2-0 lead through two innings. But two homers in the third—a two-run shot by Cody Regis and a solo shot by Jeff Gelalich—put the Bruins up 5-0 and put the game out of reach, though TCU made a valiant charge in the seventh.

Over eight masterful innings, Cole racked up 13 strikeouts, the most in a CWS game since Cal State Fullerton’s Jason Windsor struck out 14 against South Carolina on June 19, 2004. Cole matched his season high with eight innings and now has 151 strikeouts on the season, third-most in the nation (and just one behind teammate Trevor Bauer).

Might Have Missed:
UCLA freshman center fielder Beau Amaral continued his hitting tear, going 3-for-3 with a walk, a double and two runs scored. He also had three hits in UCLA’s CWS opener on Saturday. “This guy to my left,” Bruins coach John Savage said of Amaral, “is as good a young player as you’re going to see in college baseball.”

OMAHA—Gerrit Cole would not be rattled.

Rendered mostly silent for six innings, the overwhelmingly pro-Texas Christian crowd at Rosenblatt Stadium awoke like a thunderclap in the top of the seventh inning Monday night. With the bases loaded, Horned Frogs shortstop Taylor Featherston delivered the best at-bat of the 2010 College World Series to date, fighting back from a 1-and-2 count against Cole, the flame-throwing UCLA sophomore righthander who had been simply unhittable for the previous six innings. After laying off a devastating Cole slider just low, Featherston fouled off a 3-and-2 pitch, then laced a changeup for a three-run triple to left-center, just beyond the outstretched glove of diving UCLA center fielder Beau Amaral.

The legions of purple-clad fans packing Rosenblatt Stadium rose to their feet during the at-bat, and Featherston admitted later, “my stomach dropped for a little bit” as the decibel level climbed. “That was pretty crazy—probably the most fun at-bat of my entire life,” he said.

All of a sudden, UCLA’s seemingly insurmountable five-run lead was cut down to two, but Cole simply took a deep breath, regrouped, and reloaded his bazooka of a right arm. He blew a 97 mph fastball past Aaron Schultz to leave Featherston standing on third base. The Horned Frogs would get no closer, and UCLA held on for an exceedingly entertaining 6-3 win to improve to 2-0 at the CWS.

Bruins coach John Savage raved about Cole’s composure in that seventh inning, when his masterpiece was suddenly blemished and the game was suddenly in doubt for the first time since the early innings.

“Very, very impressive,” Savage said. “That’s the thing he has shown this season—a ton of maturity. He’s a guy everybody knows was a first-round pick of the New York Yankees, and his talent is off the sheets. But his mental game is at another level. We told him it would be a TCU crowd, and it was. (Featherston) hit that three-run triple, and it was loud. Our philosophy is pitch-to-pitch, move on to the next pitch, and Gerrit did it as well as you can do it in that situation.”

Perhaps just as impressive was the eighth inning, when Cole returned to the mound and further silenced the crowd. He opened the frame by freezing pinch-hitter Kyle Von Tungeln on a 95 mph fastball (his only called third strike of the game), then whiffed Jerome Pena on an 86 mph changeup. That was Cole’s 13th and final strikeout of the game, and his first on the changeup. With two outs, Cole walked Bryan Holaday, and Savage went to the mound with Cole sitting on 121 pitches.

“I was about to take him out with two outs in the eighth,” Savage said. “He said, ‘Coach, trust me, I trust you. I think I can get this guy.’ The next pitch, the inning was over.”

That next pitch—Cole’s 122nd and last of the evening—was a 97 mph fastball that Jason Coats grounded to shortstop for an inning-ending force out.

“Cole showed why he’s an All-American with the way he pitched after the seventh inning,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “That was really impressive.”

Cole took control of the game in the first inning, striking out the side in order on a 97 mph fastball and two 87 mph sliders. He allowed a single to Matt Curry leading off the second, but TCU did not get another hit until Coats started the seventh-inning rally with a one-out single. He pitched mostly off his fastball and slider all night but mixed in a few changeups. Seven of his 13 strikeouts came on fastballs—all 95 mph or better on ESPN’s gun—and five came on sliders. It was a masterful, overpowering performance, and it showed why Cole was a first-round pick out of high school and one of the top contenders to go No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft.

But Monday also showed why Cole made the decision to come to school in the first place.

“Coming off the mound in the eighth inning,” he said, “it kind of leaves you speechless.”

Cole wasn’t the only one left speechless Monday night.