It wasn’t the marquee matchup of left-handers it could have been.
With ace JC Cloney not yet ready to pitch because of injury, Arizona Wildcats coach Jay Johnson sent redshirt freshman Randy Labaut to the mound Thursday night. The literal tall task he faced: dueling 6-foot-6 Oregon stud southpaw David Peterson.
Labaut pitched well; Peterson pitched better. With help from the bullpen, Peterson and the No. 22 Ducks defeated the No. 7 Wildcats 8-4 in front of an announced crowd of 3,499 at Hi Corbett Field.
The game lasted 4 hour, 24 minutes, ending at 11:26 p.m. Game 2 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday.
The loss was Arizona’s first of the season at home, ending a 19-game winning streak at Hi Corbett dating to last year. The UA last lost at home on May 15 against Arizona State.
Arizona (24-9, 7-6) had won two in a row and eight of its past nine. Oregon (23-8, 6-4) won its sixth straight.
“They played better,” Johnson said. “It starts on the mound. David’s one of the best pitchers in the country for a reason.”
Peterson is a projected first-round pick in the 2017 MLB draft, and he entered Thursday night on an incredible tear. In his previous six starts, Peterson had a 0.64 ERA across 42 1/3 innings with two walks and 68 strikeouts.
With Peterson opposing the No. 1 offense in the Pac-12, pro scouts came out in droves. By one count, 22 were on hand 2½ hours before the game to watch Arizona take batting practice.
Peterson didn’t disappoint them, allowing two runs – neither earned – in six innings to improve to 8-1.
Cloney remains day-to-day because of biceps injury suffered last Friday. Johnson said Cloney threw Wednesday but couldn’t specify when he’d return.
“As soon as he can pitch, he’ll pitch,” Johnson said.
Cloney is by far Arizona’s best, most experienced and most dependable starting pitcher. He’s 6-0 with a 1.74 ERA – lower than Peterson’s 2.06 entering Thursday.
Considering the circumstances and his relative lack of experience, Labaut pitched admirably. He allowed three runs – all coming in the top of the second – on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings.
“He’s this close to being great,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to give them credit. In that second inning, we’re a strike away. I was really pleased after that, though. I didn’t think he would be able to extend 3 1/3 more innings.”
Labaut exited with runners on first and second in the sixth. Alfonso Rivas entered in relief and retired two straight batters to end the threat.
Down 3-0, Arizona trimmed its deficit to a run in the bottom of the third. The rally started with, of all things, a catcher’s interference that enabled Mitchell Morimoto to reach first base with one out. Rivas followed with a single, and another by Jared Oliva drove in Morimoto.
After JJ Matijevic got hit by a pitch to load the bases, Kyle Lewis drew a walk to score Rivas and make it 3-2. It was a noteworthy achievement; Peterson had walked only four batters in his first 55 innings this season.
Oddly, Morimoto reached again on catcher’s interference in the bottom of the fourth. The call against Oregon’s Tim Susnara negated a 3-6 double play. But the next batter, Rivas, grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Morimoto and Susnara were involved in a play in the top of the fourth that took the other half of Arizona’s best battery out of the game.
Susnara tried to score from second on a single to left. Morimoto made a perfect throw to the plate. Susnara slid into fellow catcher Cesar Salazar, who held onto the ball but got hurt in the process.
Salazar seemed to be favoring his right arm as he walked off the field, and his hand and wrist were wrapped after the game. Ryan Haug replaced him in the top of the fifth.
With the lead at 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Matijevic drove in Morimoto with a single. Despite having runners on first and third with one out, the Wildcats couldn’t get the tying run home.
Oregon added a pair of runs in the eighth and ninth. Freshman Kenyon Yovan got the final five outs for his 12th save of the season.
- Oregon’s Jake Bennett lost his bat on a swing and miss in the top of the third inning, and it somehow penetrated the netting near the Arizona dugout. The bat landed in the first row of seats. No one appeared to be hurt.
- The game was delayed briefly in the bottom of the third when the umpires ejected a fan sitting behind the plate.
- Rivas and Matijevic had two hits apiece. Susnara went 4 for 4. Oregon’s 16 hits were the second most Arizona has allowed this season.