WESTWOOD —The last few months of UCLA athletics was highlighted by the amazing performance of the women’s basketball team and the continued dominance of the women’s gymnastics team throughout their entire season. Those two sports definitely deserve the attention thrown their way, but one sport has hung in their shadow, quietly racking up win after win without too many people even noticing.
Men’s baseball has always been one of the most successful sports at UCLA. They are consistently being ranked among the top teams in the country every year and have put many players into the MLB, including Philadelphia Phillies All-Star Chase Utley. Even with all that, not too many accomplishments can compare to what this year’s team did during its first 22 games of the season.
In some other collegiate sports, talk of a perfect season or going undefeated is not too lofty a goal, but to even think of doing that in baseball is beyond laughable. Not only are there a lot more games played than other sports, but there is no other sport in the world that is more based on complete team effort than baseball. Your best pitcher can’t pitch every game or even every other game for that matter and your best hitter can’t take every bat. In sports like basketball or football, one player can completely take over a game and carry his team to victory. When it comes to baseball, individual performance is almost irrelevant if the rest of the team doesn’t play well. A pitcher can strike out every batter and pitch a shutout, but if the team is not able to generate any runs they will not win the game. The best hitter on the team can hit a homerun at every bat, but if the rest of his team is having an off night and his pitcher is not able to find the strike zone that particular game, his efforts don’t really mean much. So when the Bruin baseball team went 22-0 to start off the season it was definitely nothing short of miraculous.
The 22-0 run, marked by a 6-1 pasting of that other team across town at Dodger Stadium and a 20-4 beating of Oral Roberts, is the best start in UCLA history. Their only real test came in their Pac-10 opener against Stanford. Facing the unbeaten Alex Pracher, Stanford’s best pitcher, UCLA found itself down three different times throughout the game. Every time the Bruins seem to make its way back Stanford would find a way to regain the lead. When The Cardinal took a lead of 5-3 in the seventh inning the Bruins had finally had enough. Second baseman Tyler Rahamatulla and center fielder Chris Giovinazzo started the bottom of the seventh inning off with walks to quickly put two men on base. Third baseman Cody Riggs made sure the team didn’t waste their opportunity to pull even with Stanford and hit a single to bring both of them home. Two scoreless inning cause the game to go into extra innings and after reliever Dan Klein shut down The Cardinal once again, Dean Espy ended the game with a walk-off single to bring shortstop Niko Gallego in for the game winning run.
Unfortunately, the very next day Stanford got the best of the Bruins, ending their streak of wins, but UCLA won the war by beating them in the third game of the series. Now that the team enters conference play they hope they can continue their success and make a deep run into the College World Series at the end of the season. In 2009 the Bruins finished with a mediocre record of 27-29 and were unable to make it to the postseason. By already notching well more than half the wins they had all of last year, the baseball team hopes it will give them an entirely new result. A UCLA baseball team has never won the National Championship, but the performance of the team so far this year is a good indicator of that statistic finally changing.