There’s something magical about Dodger Stadium. While it lacks the antiquity of Wrigley or Fenway, its smoothness of the finest grass in baseball, along with the stunning vistas of the San Gabriels backdrop and the perch above Downtown Los Angeles create one of the most perfect venues in all of sports, and an icon of the city’s footprint. So it’s only fitting that it becomes the perfect venue for the greatest crosstown rivalry in collegiate athletics, when USC and UCLA resume their unpleasantries on the diamond, in the Dodgertown Classic tonight.
In the last couple of seasons, the Trojans were an underdog to UCLA, as the Bruins rolled in their pair of aces, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. But those two guys are in their respective Spring Training camps for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Trojans are playing their best baseball since Mike Gillespie left in 2006.
USC is 12-3 on the season, having won five straight including a mid-week victory over rivals Cal State Fullerton, who are ranked 8th in the nation according to the NCAA. The Trojans are anchored by ace and All-Conference candidate Andrew Triggs, who picked up his first save of the season in the win over Fullerton last Tuesday night. Triggs won’t get the start tonight, as midweek starter Brandon Garcia is set to toe the rubber for the Trojans.
Garcia, a senior, is 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA in just three starts over 14 and two thirds innings. He picked up a win in a solid outing in his first go around, a 4-2 win at Long Beach State. Garcia held the Dirtbags to just a single earned run over five and two thirds, but has struggled since, giving up nine earned in nine innings of work against Big West foes Pepperdine and Fullerton. He’ll need a big bounce back performance tonight at the ravine, as he faces his first Pac-12 opponent, albeit in a non-conference game. Garcia does pack a punch in the batters box in addition to his pitching, and manager Frank Cruz won’t be afraid to re-insert his left handed bat into the game after his night on the mound is down, as he’s done before. Garcia leads the Trojans in home runs, an homage of sorts to USC great Jason Lane, who famously set RBI records in 1998 College World Series, in addition to being a pitcher for Mike Gillespie’s National Champions.
UCLA, also 12-3, comes into the game fresh off of a sweep of their own, as they swept then-9th ranked Georgia, in Athens. Baseball America has the Bruins ranked 9th in the country, while NCAA rankings put UCLA in at 17th, an odd variance between the two rankings. Taking the ball for John Savage’s Bruins is freshman Grant Watson, who like Brandon Garcia, has started three midweek games, all against local Big West rivals. Watson is 3-0 with a 5.03 ERA in over 19 innings of labor, but don’t let those stats fool you. In his last two starts, wins over Long Beach State and UC Riverside, Watson is 2-0 and has allowed just three hits and one earned over nine and a third innings.
In the hitting department, the Bruins are led by junior right fielder Jeff Gelalich, who went 9 for 13 in the three game sweep of Georgia. He’s batting .491 on the season, and leads the Bruins in both home runs and slugging, while being second on the team in RBIs.
First pitch at Chavez Ravine is scheduled for 6:30, and in a big shame, the game won’t be televised by Fox Sports.