by Rob Moseley
Given his 22 years and 937 career victories as a college baseball coach, George Horton tends to trust his instincts when a decision must be made.
On Thursday night, after UO junior Tommy Thorpe lost a shutout in the ninth inning, Horton's instincts told him to pull Thorpe. The left-hander was pitching on relatively short rest, given that this weekend's series with Cal started a day early, and it was already the longest outing of Thorpe's career.
And so, with a man on second and two out, Horton went out to the PK Park mound intent on calling for a reliever.
"I'm a pretty stubborn guy," Horton said. "Usually the decision's made before I go out there."
After a quick conversation, however, Horton turned and headed back to the dugout, with Thorpe still standing atop the mound. The next hitter worked a full count, then fouled off a couple more of Thorpe's offering. Then came Thorpe's 122nd pitch of the night, a backdoor breaking ball for a strikeout to clinch a 5-1 victory and his first career complete game.
"I told him to give me the ball, and he did," said Thorpe, who improved to 10-4 in pitching the Ducks to their sixth straight win. "I just said, 'Give me the ball, coach, I'm not going out.' Coach Horton knows me really well, and he knows I'll battle out there."
Thorpe allowed six hits and one run over nine innings Thursday, striking out eight and walking just one. He went eight scoreless for the fourth time in his career, and the second this season, before recording an out in the ninth for the first time.
Cal starter Daulton Jefferies matched Thorpe pitch for pitch early on, facing the minimum through four and not allowing a hit until there were two out in the fifth. Oregon (42-16, 18-10 Pac-12) broke through for four runs in that fifth inning, however, and tacked on another in the seventh.
The Ducks actually took a 1-0 lead before recording a hit, after Mitchell Tolman walked, took second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a groundball out and scored on a fielder's choice. Freshman shortstop Mark Karaviotis drove in a run with the Ducks' first hit of the night, another came home on an error and Tyler Baumgartner had an RBI single two batters later.
"I had two strikes, just had to do whatever I could to put a ball in play," Karaviotis said.
Karaviotis also had a great vantage point for Thorpe's gem. Oregon's normal Friday night starter, Thorpe won his fourth straight start, despite battling command issues with his breaking stuff in the middle innings.
Thorpe's feel for his slider and curveball were back by the ninth. He struck out the leadoff hitter with a nasty breaking ball, before ending the game with another. Catcher Shaun Chase jogged out to the mound for the postgame handshake and handed the ball to Thorpe, who tucked it away in his back pocket.
"He was unbelievable," Karaviotis said. "He pounds the strike zone every night he goes out there. That's why he's our Friday guy. He's our ace. That's what we expect from him, and he produced tonight."