To USC closer Chad Smith, it must have been something out of a dream.
The junior righty and Los Angeles native was jogging across the Dodger Stadium outfield grass on his way from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound. He was taking the same route as Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser.
“It was pretty special,” said Smith. “I get chills just thinking about it.”
There were two outs in the eighth inning, the bases were loaded and the Trojans were leading 2-0 over No. 13 UCLA when Smith was called in for the four-out save. He got UCLA first baseman Dean Espy swinging on a 2-2 count to end the eighth, and then tossed a perfect ninth to seal the Trojan’s (5-10) victory over the Bruins (8-6) on Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.
USC senior starter Logan Odom scattered just four hits over seven and one-third scoreless innings, walking just two and striking out four. It was what’s come to be expected of Odom, who has a 1.66 ERA in his last three starts—all have come against ranked teams.
“Odom’s been great this whole year for us,” said USC interim coach Frank Cruz. “He has a ton of confidence right now and we have a ton of confidence in him.”
For the first time in their last eight games, the Trojans got on the board first. With two down in the third, junior catcher Kevin Roundtree was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. After a walk, junior first baseman Ricky Oropesa came through with a bloop knock just over the head of the Bruin’s second baseman to bring in Roundtree.
Junior right fielder Alex Sherrod led off the USC fourth with a walk, and junior left fielder Garret Houts followed that with a hit-and-run single, advancing Sherrod to third. With one out, sophomore third baseman Adam Landecker knocked in Sherrod with a single through the right side that put runners at the corners once again with one out, but they were stranded.
It was the decisive eighth inning that had all the makings of a rivalry game. After Odom left the game to a rousing standing ovation with one on and one out, freshman lefty specialist Bobby Wheatley came in and struck out his hitter. But then two different USC pitchers plunked Bruin hitters with the first pitch they threw to load the bases. Out came coach Cruz for his fourth pitching change in as many hitters, and the UCLA crowd let him know exactly what they thought of his micromanaging.
“Oh I heard them all right,” Cruz said about the UCLA fans. “But it didn’t matter. I was doing what I thought we needed to do.”
Turns out, Cruz was right, as Smith came in and shut the door.
The win was USC’s second in its last 11 games, something that was not lost on the Trojans.
“This is the kind of thing that can set the tone for the rest of the season,” said junior first baseman Ricky Oropesa. “We showed today that we all still believe in each other and pull for each other and we don’t quit.”
And the fact that it was UCLA was not lost on anyone either. 11,680 fans came out to Chavez Ravine Sunday to see the rivalry, and the players felt it.
“I can’t explain how big it is,” Odom said. “It really lifts the team spirits.”
Said Smith, “There is no other team who you wanna beat more.”
The Trojans host Louisville in a two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday, beginning a 10-game homestand.