Duel Greatness

May 21, 2007

(at UA 7, UW 0)
(at UA 13, UW 4)
(at UA 17, UW 8)

The Cats have become BatCats once again.

The final regular season home series could not have turned out any better for Arizona. Our guys increased their offensive output in every game and posted victory margins of seven, nine and nine. You're tempted to say, "What took you so long?" but I'm going to go with "Better late than never."

Let's say you're a senior baseball player preparing for your final three home games. How would you draw it up in your head? If you eliminate over-the-top dreams like 12 grand slams and finding a million dollars in the outfield, it would probably look something like this: nine hits, six extra-base hits, your first career cycle, and leading your struggling team to 37 runs and an impressive series sweep. Bill Rhinehart, this is your life.

Jon Gaston was another Cat batter who saw the light over the weekend, but it's possible that's because he literally could not see the light before. At least not well enough. After only posting three hits in the team's last seven games, it was reported that Gaston aquired some eyeglasses before Saturday's game. The result was four hits in six at-bats in the final two contests including two triples and a homer. Maybe glasses make you stronger too.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Preston Guilmet is really good. His initials may be PG but his stuff is NC-17. Nasty.

Another complete game victory and another shutout, this time of the three-hit variety. If Preston was the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week after seven shutout innings against Liberty you have to think he'll win it for a complete game shutout in a conference game. Does the Pac-10 send an actual award for these weekly honors? If so Preston's going to need to build another cinder block bookcase for his apartment.

My fellow fans and I wanted our Thirstbusters but it's actually good that Guilmet "only" had seven strikouts instead of the required nine for the giveaway. He got through his typical nine innings on 122 pitches, which is like about 65 for most guys. This is especially important as Preston only gets to rest until Wednesday before putting the Superman cape back on.

And this wasn't like dominating Gonzaga, Nothern Colorado, or even Stanford. The Huskies came into the series with a 9-9 league mark. They were second in the league in homeruns. This is a solid hitting team that got completely shut down by a guy who is all sorts of on fire right now.

Speaking of heat, it was great seeing some of our softball players in the stands after their game Friday night. Heck, it's great to see our softball players anywhere. They are very seeable.

More hotness: It was pretty funny seeing three different security guards hovering around the Hot Corner student section. You never know when calling out a pitching coach's steps might get out of hand. Someone needs to put a stop to those whiteboard-wielding thugs.

Hunter Pace may be just what we've been looking for in the leadoff spot. What I love about the kid is that he can fly and he hits ground balls. There's nothing like turning a simple grounder to short into a rally-starting single. Now I just have to decide if I'm going to make a Win-Hunter or Yes-I-Will-Pick-Up-The-Pace joke.

Another thing you can't beat about college baseball: You can sit close enough to the action to notice that Dwight Childs sits on the ground to set his target for low pitches. That's one advantage to having a smaller, more limber catcher. Give him a hotdog and soda and he'll have the best seat in the house.

You won't find a bigger fan of the improvements that have been made to Frank Sancet Stadium than me. I love the video scoreboard and tributes to our program's proud tradition. But there is one thing that has to go: Dot Racing. It's a take-off on the standard gimmick to entertain the kids. Some places have costumed mascots running around the field, sometimes it's animated cars or animals or even condiments racing on the scoreboard. But the best we can do is dots? Here's an instant replay from Friday night:
:. . : . . !

I predicted a couple weeks ago that we needed to go 5-1 in the last two home series and we came up a win short. But it turns out it wouldn't have mattered anyway as the Sun Devils are smiting everyone in their path and have already clinched a share of the Pac-10 championship. Remember how excited I was a while back about ASU closing the season with UCLA, OSU and us? Well, they're now 6-0 and counting. That means even with our sweep of Washington we didn't gain any ground. They still hold a three-game lead in the standings. We do however play the final three games head-to-head, which means we can still catch them.

So it all comes down to this: The University of Arizona vs. Arizona State for the Pac-10 championship. Well, actually, it's Arizona State already has the Pac-10 championship and the University of Arizona is trying to steal half of it. I'm not going to go off on any tirade about vanquishing our mortal foes because, honestly, it's probably not going to happen. It's asking a bit much to win three straight games against a team that is 28-2 at home. Plus they're playing for an outright conference championship. Oh, and they hate us and have already scored 22 runs in a game on us this year.

If Preston Guilmet does his thing on Wednesday, and Brad Mills bounces back and dominates on Thursday, then Andy Lopez can stand on the roof of the dugout and bellow his favorite war speech. But until then let's just play ball and see what happens.

Some fans in the state say this is the best possible situation. Both Arizona and Arizona State are great and they meet on the field of play with a championship on the line. I say it stinks. Of course I want us to be good, but I never enjoy Sun Devil wins, and any they get this week will be especially painful. It's bad enough to come up just short for a conference title. But if we lose a single game this week not only do we lose the Pac-10, but they win it. Pass the Tums.

The last time this happened was in 1989 when the UA finished first in the Pac-10 South division and ASU finished four games behind in second. To find a closer all-Arizona race you have to go back to the WAC days. In fact the Cats and Devils finished 1-2 every single year we were in the WAC, but that's not saying much in a three or four-team division.

In football, we tied for second in the Pac-10 in 1985, both a half a game out of first. You have to rewind to 1975 in the WAC to find a time when one school barely beat the other for the championship (them over us). A couple years earlier the UA and ASU tied for the WAC football crown.

And basketball? It hasn't happened in the Pac-10 or WAC eras, and you probably guess whose fault that is.

So here we go. The 2007 baseball regular season comes to a close this week. The good news is we're playing ASU and competing for a championship. The bad news is they are too.

The way I'm looking at it is three wins for the Pac-10 title, two wins to host a regional, one win to do better than UCLA and...let's not think too much about the other option.

Beat the Devils...again...and again...and again.

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