Cole powers UCLA into prime position
OMAHA, Neb. -- UCLA coach John Savage doesn't need any help finding the strength of his squad. Few do, really.
"We don't have the home runs that a lot of these teams have, and the big RBI guys, they're just not there," Savage said before the College World Series began. "Our strength is our pitching."
TCU started six players with 49 or more RBIs. UCLA had one. TCU began with three players with at least 13 home runs. UCLA doesn't have a starter with more than nine.
But the second piece of the its pitching triumvirate, Gerrit Cole, paced UCLA with a dominating performance Monday night to move the Bruins within a game of the championship series with a 6-3 win in front of 23,345 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium.
"It's critically important to put yourself in this position," Savage said.
Cole put them there, pitching eight innings and allowing just five hits and three runs.
"Gerrit was as solid as you could be all night long," Savage said. "A guy that really stepped up on the big stage tonight. You just have to give him a ton of credit."
His 13 strikeouts brought his season total to 151, one short of the single-season school record. That record was set Sunday, when his teammate Trevor Bauer struck out 11 to bring his total to 152.
Third starter Rob Rasmussen also has 117.
"They compete against each other. That's what our pitching staff has done all year. It's not about 'Hey, I'm the best guy. You're the second-best guy.'" Savage said. "Gerrit has been our Friday-night guy since Day 1. It was just an outstanding performance by our No. 1 guy."
Cole (11-3) pitched with a comfy five-run cushion after his offense put up five runs in the first three innings. Two vintage small-ball singles provided the first two runs in the first two innings. Freshman second baseman Cody Regis -- starting in place of Tyler Rahmatulla, who fractured his wrist in the celebratory super regional dogpile -- hit a two-run home run to left field, his ninth of the season. Left fielder Jeff Gelalich ended TCU starter Kyle Winkler's (12-2) night early with a solo home run to left center that made it 5-0.
"We used the middle of the field. When we do that, we're a tough team to pitch against," Savage said. "We don't have a bunch of guys that are knocking down the fence, but we have a bunch of guys that are gritty and certainly offensive enough that if you leave some pitches over the plate, they can do some damage."
Cole's most impressive strikeout was his final one that gave him 13, the most of any pitcher in the College World Series since Cal State Fullerton's Jason Windsor struck out 14 in 2004. With the crowd as loud as it's been all week, TCU shortstop Taylor Featherston delivered a three-RBI triple with a lined shot to center field, just out of the reach of UCLA's diving centerfielder, Beau Amaral. That further incited the crowd, rooting for a dramatic Horned Frogs comeback.
"I thought I'd shown him the fastball and the slider and the cutter a little bit earlier," Cole said. "So I decided to go to the change. I threw it. It was just up in the zone. I don't know how good he hit it, but he hit it well enough so that we couldn't field it. And you gotta tip your cap. Three-two change, not many people can hammer that in the gap."
But with a hostile crowd around him and a game-changing hit behind him, Cole struck out TCU's Aaron Schultz to end the inning and quiet the crowd.
"We told him that the crowd would be a TCU crowd, and it was," Savage said. "I mean, it was loud. There was a ton of excitement, and he settled back in. Gerrit did about as well as you can do it in that situation."
David Ubben covers college sports for ESPN.com.