By Rob Moseley
On an innocuous Tuesday in April 2011, Jeff Gold made his first career start for the Oregon baseball team.
Gold earned the victory that day, at home against Portland. Though it was a cool personal milestone, there was little sense then that the only start of Gold’s freshman season would end up being the first chapter in a historic career.
On Friday, in the second game of the Ducks’ three-game homestand against California, Gold will try for his 24th career victory. That would break the UO record he shares with Alex Keudell after winning his 23rd game, and 10th of the season, last week at UCLA.
Gold’s record was built in fits and starts – no pun intended. He was a midweek starter as a sophomore, until an injury opened up a weekend spot in late April 2012. As a junior, Gold made only five starts; one was a must-win situation for the Ducks against Rice in the NCAA Regional round, and yet by season’s end, Gold was content to move on with his life, and pursue an interest in music.
Then, a phone call from UO assistant Mark Wasikowski that proved fateful, for both Gold and the Ducks. The university was offering a course of study that aligned with Gold’s passion for music production, and the baseball team was interested in having him back. Nearly a year later, Gold has simply been one of college baseball’s most efficient pitchers, putting him in position to set Oregon’s wins record Friday.
“I never dreamed of it,” Gold said. “I thought I was done after last year, and for this year to go the way it’s played out, both individually and collectively, I’m so happy that ‘Waz’ called and invited me back. It was a true honor. I’m so grateful that for five years I’ve been able to call this place home.”
After the one victory in 2011 over Portland, Gold posted eight as a sophomore, getting his first Pac-12 win over California on April 20, 2012. The 2013 season added four more wins to Gold’s ledger, three in the nonconference season and the one in the postseason against Rice.
“He’s kind of done it like the tortoise and the hare,” UO coach George Horton. “He’s been the tortoise.”
The spring of 2014 has been the point at which the methodical, calculating tortoise made his move. Slated to be a midweek guy again as the season began, Gold won his first seven starts, including four straight after finally getting the chance to solidify Oregon’s Sunday slot.
In mid-April, Gold moved up from Sunday to Saturday after Matt Krook’s elbow surgery, and promptly won his first two starts in that rotation slot. Entering this week, Gold was 10-1 with a 2.95 ERA, tied for 11th nationally and second in the Pac-12 for victories.
Gold’s hallmark has been efficiency. A pitcher rather than a thrower, in baseball terms, the lanky right-hander’s 0.82 walks per nine innings and 7.25 strikeouts for every walk each lead the Pac-12 and are tied for eighth in the NCAA.
He also is Oregon’s most eccentric personality, rapping aloud and talking to himself in the dugout while charting pitches for teammates. Gold is a “Star Wars” fanatic, and as likely as anyone else to know that April 19, 2011, was not only the date of his first career start, but the day Skynet went online in a television series based on the “Terminator” movies.
“I find him refreshing,” Horton said. “Beyond his wins, he’s created a lot of smiles.”
A native of Moraga, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gold was struck by the irony of going for his 24th career win Friday against Cal, the Pac-12 school closest to his hometown. And he’s glad to be pitching with the Ducks still on the bubble to host NCAA Regionals, should they continue their strong play in a five-game win streak that was extended with Tuesday’s win over No. 1 Oregon State.
“I love it,” Gold said. “I’m sure anybody will tell you, they like playing when something’s on the line as opposed to nothing. Whether it’s a rivalry game like Oregon State, or if we’re playing to host, this team can get up for just about anything. I’m excited, and it’s going to be a fun weekend.”