Tiger Who?

Walk-off Shot Worth the Wait


It was cold, guv. Too cold for disappointment.

The UC Riverside baseball team’s season opener snuck into the Riverside Sports Complex in between winter storms, ushered along by a biting wind that sent the huddled supporters lining up for hot chocolate and blew the tarps off the bullpen mounds as endless clouds galloped north over the Box Spring Mountains.

Of course it wasn’t cold for the visiting Washington Huskies, in town for a four-game stint in sunny — ha! — So Cal. They’re used to such misery in Seattle. Heck, they were probably hot, suckas.

An early 2-0 UCR lead that had the hearty home crowd giddy was erased in the 5th (4th?) by a two-run UW homer, setting up a second half of the game that was played with trepidation — at least for me. Too close for comfort. Too easy for a good team to manufacture a run or blow it wide open. After enduring this bone-chilling duel, it would be a bitter loss.

In at least three of the subsequent innings, Highlander moundsmen put Huskies on base and got out the jam with clutch pitching. But it felt like a rising tide, with Rivi’s fortifications perilously tested to their limits.

Somehow we ended up in the bottom of the ninth at 2-2, after escaping yet another jam in the top of the inning. UCR quickly racked up two outs, and it looked as if we might be there a while. I shot a look over at the concession stand, thinking about rocking a third hot chocolate, but it was shut tight — the cold, curled steel door quietly mocking us frozen bums, the knackered and harried staff having slipped away when the mob wasn’t looking.

Then there was life. A two-out walk and a man on first. Ben Price stepped into the box, fresh off a humiliating inning-killing pickoff his last time up. But crank up the Bob Marley, mon, ’cause this is redemption song, y’nah?

It was evident soon after the ball left the bat that it was game over. Seriously. Deep and directly in the gap, the outfield had no chance and the base-on-balls easily scored from first. Boo-yaa. Welcome to the 2008 season.

The Huskies and Highlanders ultimately split the four game weekend stand, and UCR then dropped a game to No. 24 Pepperdine. The early read is that the Highlanders may be too young to repeat as Big West champions — the banner looks filthy up on the outfield wall, by the way — but we’ll just have to see what happens, won’t we? Pub Wisdom reckons a healthy pitching rotation down the stretch could be the bridge to lively late-season bats in the hands of cocky world-beaters. Make it so.


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