by Rob Moseley
A home run by Shaun Chase lifted Oregon to a series sweep over Utah on Sunday, and lifted the spirits of family a thousand miles away who dodged tragedy 10 days earlier.
Chase, a junior catcher from Phoenix, hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer to break a one-all tie and help the UO baseball team to a 3-1 victory over the Utes in PK Park. Watching online from Arizona, as always, was Chase's father, Russ, who suffered a heart attack on March 13.
Convinced by his family to stay with the Ducks in the wake of the incident, Chase hit an eighth-inning single Friday against the Utes and was replaced by pinch-runner Nick Catalano, who scored the winning run. On Sunday, Chase pinch hit two batters after A.J. Balta's game-tying double in the seventh, and rocketed a one-out, two-strike fastball over the left-field fence that scored Balta from third.
"I was just trying to battle," Chase said. "I knew I had to get it out of the infield just to score that run, whether it be in the air, up the middle — I had to do something. I couldn't strike out there.
"They threw me a fastball up in the zone, and I just put a short, hard swing on it. And it happened to go out."
Chase's dramatics made a winner of UO starter Jeff Gold for the sixth time in six starts this year, and gave the No. 12 Ducks (17-5, 5-1 Pac-12) their third series sweep of the season. Gold allowed two hits and an unearned run over eight innings, taking pressure off a bullpen that will be tested over a stretch of seven games in nine days that begins Tuesday at San Francisco.
Russ Chase, 56, was working out at a gym when he suffered the heart attack. Shaun Chase was told his father's heart stopped for 16 minutes, but that CPR was administered quickly and concerns about brain damage were alleviated.
Not wanting to worry her son, Dawn Chase didn't tell Shaun about the heart attack until two days later; Shaun had two hits in Oregon's March 14 loss to USC, while, unbeknownst to him, his father was in a medically induced coma. One of the hits was a double, and those at Russ' bedside said he briefly opened his eyes upon hearing the play on the radio broadcast streaming online.
Russ underwent a procedure Monday to insert a defibrillator, and Shaun finally got a chance to talk with his dad over the phone Wednesday.
"He's always on my mind," Chase said. "I try and stay in contact with my parents as much as I can, just knowing that anything can happen at any moment. It's really nerve-racking, especially knowing I'm this far away."
Chase experienced a different sort of nerves Sunday, summoned from the bench with a chance to give the Ducks their first lead of the game. He popped up a pitch behind home plate that just cleared the netting to reach the stands, before smacking the homer to left.
"He played well on Friday, and then obviously the big hit today," UO coach George Horton. "It's a great story."
Oregon's seventh-inning rally began with Kyle Garlick's leadoff single. Balta worked a full count, and thus Garlick broke with the pitch and came all the way around to score on Balta's double. Balta went to third on a groundball out by J.B. Bryant, and Chase came through with the go-ahead homer.
Gold was at 75 pitches by that point, and Horton was leaning toward pulling him; a week earlier, Gold cruised through six innings against USC before allowing four hits and two runs in the seventh. But Horton took a straw poll of the UO infield, which sided with Gold's request to work the eighth inning against the Utes.
Gold allowed a baserunner but then induced a high chopper to third baseman Kevin Minjares for Gold's third straight inning-ending double play.
That allowed Gold to match his previous career-long outing. He overcame the unearned run in the first and three hit batters to improve to 6-0.
"It always bothers me giving up runs, but it happens," said Gold, who lowered his ERA to 2.04. "You've just got to keep staying with the plan, which is executing pitches."
After the game, Horton confirmed that Scott Heineman, Oregon's leadoff hitter and third baseman to open the season, is scheduled for season-ending shoulder surgery. Limited to eight games by the labrum injury this spring, Heineman is a candidate to be granted a medical hardship by the NCAA, and thus retain his eligibility as a junior in 2015.