Opponents of UCLA have tried many different strategies against Trevor Bauer -- attack the fast ball, wait on the change up, go after the first pitch -- but most have come up empty.
Fresno State coach Mike Batesole tried a different approach Saturday: He went after Bauer's hat.
And in the end, it had the same result.
Bauer continued his season-long dominance on the mound Saturday at Jackie Robinson Stadium, shutting down a potent Fresno State offense as UCLA defeated the Bulldogs, 3-1, to fend off elimination and send Fresno State back over the Grapevine.
The Bruins will face San Francisco in another elimination game Sunday at 2 p.m. and they would certainly like to send Bauer back to the mound.
Bauer, the Collegiate Baseball national pitcher of the year, pitched a six-hitter with 14 strikeouts and two walks. It was his ninth consecutive complete game and he has now gone five consecutive starts without giving up more than one run.
Bauer (13-2) lowered his season ERA to 1.25 and increased his season strikeout total to 203 to set a new Pac-10 record. Just another day at the park for Bauer.
"It’s a big game obviously, the season is on the line, but it wasn’t any different for me," Bauer said. "It was another Saturday, 2 p.m. start against another good team."
Clearly, looking at Bauer's numbers indicates that not many strategies have worked against Bauer, and that includes Batesole's failed attempt at gamesmanship.
Just before the first pitch, after Bauer had completed his warmup pitches, Batesole called timeout and approached plate umpire Josh Schepis. The two talked for about a minute, Batesole looking out toward Bauer the whole time and Schepis shaking his head several times.
The discussion was about Bauer's hat. Bauer has many eccentric behaviors and one of them is always wearing the same hat he has worn since he arrived at UCLA three seasons ago. Now it's faded from sweat and sunbleached so badly that it's almost white.
Batesole was trying to claim it was a uniform violation because the rest of the team's hats were UCLA blue, according to UCLA catcher Steve Rodriguez who stood nearby and heard the whole thing. Schepis wasn't having any of it and allowed Bauer to continue with his lucky hat.
"It's the first time anyone has said anything about it," UCLA coach John Savage said. "It is a game hat. We gave it to him and he’s just worn the same hat. Now if it was different colored sleeves or a different colored glove or something in the rule book, then it is what it is. But just because it’s faded, I don’t see it being a big deal."
Batesole, asked about the ploy in his postgame news conference, denied the attempt at gamesmanship.
"We were cleaning up some of the ground rules that we went over on Thursday night," Batesole said.
The sweat stains on Bauer's hat were about the only stains on his performance. Fresno State entered the regional as one of the most potent offensive teams in the country. They ranked 17th in the nation in home runs and 14th in slugging percentage, but the 3-4-5 hitters for the Bulldogs were 0-12 with no RBIs and five strikeouts.
Still, despite the dominant performance, they came away unimpressed with Bauer.
"We’ve seen a lot of good pitchers this year," said Fresno State home run leader Dusty Robinson when asked if Bauer was the best pitcher he faced this season. "You pay a lot of weekend series and you see the best of every team."
It's hard to imagine they faced anyone as good as Bauer, who leads the nation in strikeouts, hits allowed per nine and complete games and is second in wins and fifth in ERA. He's as automatic as they come in college baseball "the best Saturday starter maybe in the history of college baseball," Savage said, but that doesn't mean UCLA takes it for granted that they will win with Bauer on the mound.
"You don’t want to take anything for granted," Savage said. "It’s baseball and anything can happen and Trevor knows that and that’s why I think he’s so good. He respects the game and he goes about his business. It doesn’t matter where he pitches and who he pitches against, he’s a competitor."
Still, it's nice to be able to trot out somebody like Bauer when a loss means your season is over. Especially when the offense is struggling. UCLA was shut out Friday night and left 14 runners on base Saturday, but managed to scratch across single runs in the first, fourth and seventh innings. For Bauer, it was enough.
"We were very confident heading in to today being in an elimination game with Trevor on the mound," said Rodriguez, the catcher. "This performance wasn’t any different than any other performance for him. He always goes out there and competes to the best of his ability."
The Bruins will call on freshman Adam Plutko on Sunday when they face San Francisco. The Dons defeated UCLA, 3-0, Friday night. The winner of that game will face UC Irvine on Sunday night and try to extend the regional to Monday night.