Last Modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 10:15 AM
OMAHA, Neb. — UCLA may have under-estimated their intended pigeon.
One of the reasons the Bruins tried the age-old hidden ball trick in the ninth inning of Sunday night’s game, UCLA coach John Savage said, was that LSU had inserted a pinch-runner, Jared Foster, into the game.
But the former Barbe High star wasn’t fooled when UCLA closer David Berg, the ball still tucked in his glove, made a wild throwing motion with his empty hand on fake pick-off throw back toward second base.
The Bruins’ thespians sprung into lights-camera-action. The second baseman dove for the imaginary errant throw. Berg ran as if to back up a throw that might come to third base. The center fielder began rushing in apace and the shortstop ran out toward the outfield.
Foster calmly dove back into second base and never budged.
“It’s a pinch runner,” Savage said. “It’s a big moment. It was actually (done) exactly how you draw it up in terms of timing.
“It’s one of our tricks. We practice it all year. If the (runner) goes back and turns his head toward the center fielder and the center fielder comes in it can work.”
Foster offered some advice.
“The second baseman kind of over-exaggerated,” he said. “I knew it then and immediately dived back in.
“I was watching a game not long ago when somebody did that. So it was kind of fresh on my mind.
“It felt good. They tried to pull a quick one on us, but it didn’t work.”
“We tried it, it didn’t work,” Savage said. “Can we move on, talk about something else.”
It has worked before, In fact, it was one of former LSU coach Skip Bertman’s biggest moments in Omaha, back when he was still an assistant coach at Miami.
He once drew up and called a similar fake pick-off throw to first that duped a runner into dashing for second, where he was thrown out.
• NO REGRETS: At least with UCLA’s ploy, it was no harm, no foul.
But LSU coach Paul Mainieri, with a night to sleep on it, still had no regrets about the hit-and-run call that blew up in the Tigers’ face earlier in the ninth inning.
Raph Rhymes squared around twice, but pulled the bat back on two bunt attempts to get the count to 2-0 with Mason Katz on first base. Mainieri then called a hit-and-run and Rhymes smashed one to third base that turned into an around-the-horn double play to short-circuit the inning.
“It didn’t work out,” Mainieri said Monday. “We all know how you define a good decision — it’s one that works. It didn’t work for us.”
But Mainieri said there was no guarantee another bunt attempt would have worked either — Rhymes does not have a sacrifice in the last two years. He was reluctant, he said, to put the bunt on the first two pitches.
“I felt like our best chance to get a run off of (All-American closer) Berg was to get a man to third with less than two outs. Had we sacrificed to second, you’re still asking your No. 6 and 7 hitters for an RBI single off a guy with an ERA under 1.00.“
The 2-0 count also increased the odds that Rhymes would get a pitch to hit; UCLA had already thrown a half-dozen or so pitch-outs in the game.
“He had to throw a strike,” Mainieri said. “Once I saw the trajectory (of the pitch) and that it was going to be something Rhymes could handle, I thought we were in business. Raph did his job. It was just very bad luck that he hit it right at the spot where he hit it.”
• FINDING A GROOVE: Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you practice.
LSU knew UCLA starter Adam Plutko would give them a steady diet of low sliders, then get them chasing fast balls up the strike zone.
All week, in fact, the LSU pitching machine was set to throw pitches up in the zone. The idea was to get the Tigers used to laying off of them or at least getting on top of them to keep the ball on the ground
“Then we come into the game and we hit 13 fly ball outs,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know if it’s nerves or the deception of his pitches, but all of a sudden we forget what we practiced all week.”
Or maybe Plutko is that good. He won his game in the super regional against nearby Cal State Fullerton, which surely knows about him.
“They (Fullerton) had 17 fly ball outs,” Mainieri said. “So maybe it’s easier said than done. And this ballpark really is made for a pitcher like that.”