Commentary

Indomitable Purke powers Horned Frogs

Originally Published: June 25, 2010
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- Matt Purke looks like a goofball on the mound, with his sideways-turned cap and black-rimmed prescription glasses. Don't let the appearance fool you, though, because the TCU freshman is an unbeatable assassin.

[+] EnlargeMatt Purke
AP Photo/Dave WeaverMatt Purke improved to 16-0 after giving up three hits and two earned runs in TCU's 6-2 win over UCLA.

Friday's must-win game against UCLA offered proof of that. Purke went to the mound without his best stuff, the result of a season's worth of wear and tear on an inexperienced arm. Yet he still had enough confidence and moxie to mow down the Bruins into the seventh inning, leading the Horned Frogs to a 6-2 win and putting them one game away from the College World Series championship round.

Purke doesn't lack for self-assurance. Just listen to him talk about how UCLA tried to throw him off his rhythm by slowing the game down.

"The guys decided that it was their job to take about 20 minutes between the walk from the dugout to the plate," he said. "I figured sooner or later I would get them out and they could take their time on the bench."

This is a guy who turned down a reported $4 million signing bonus from the Texas Rangers after being drafted in the first round last year. He and his family wanted at least $7 million, and the Rangers were forced to drop their offer of $6 million because of the team's financial troubles.

So Purke went to school and has pitched like a big leaguer. He improved to 16-0 Friday, setting the TCU record for single-season victories. "That's awesome, and hopefully next year I can break my own record," he said. He's the first Division I pitcher since 2004 to reach that many wins.

The left-hander had struck out 140 in his 110 innings coming into Friday's game, but he could tell early on that his usual overpowering pitches missed some bite. So he switched instead to his sinking fastball and induced 14 ground-ball outs in 6 1/3 innings, letting TCU's airtight defense do the heavy lifting.

"He had some 3-0 counts, some 2-0 counts and some 3-1 counts where he got some ground balls," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "That's a sign of a really good pitcher."

There were two outs in the fourth inning before the Bruins hit a ball that left the infield. Chris Giovinazzo had to break an unwritten baseball rule and bunt his way on to end Purke's no-hit bid.

"I don't really have a comment on that one," Purke said through clenched teeth.

Purke was annoyed when he saw the box score in the postgame news conference. He'd hoped his effort would lower his season ERA to under three, but instead it stands at 3.02. If not for a controversial call at third base in the seventh inning on UCLA's second run, Purke would have gotten there.

The Bruins hadn't lost yet in the World Series, and it was their pitchers who threatened to dominate the show in Omaha.

UCLA posted the nation's second-lowest ERA this season and sailed through the first two rounds behind Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole. But the third member of its trio of aces, Rob Rasmussen, struggled with his command on Friday. He walked three and allowed three runs in the first four innings.

"I just didn't throw enough strikes," he said.

His defense compounded the problems with some sloppy play, and the offense mustered just four hits against Purke and reliever Tyler Lockwood. Half those were infield singles.

"It seemed like we were swimming upstream all day long," Bruins coach John Savage said.

UCLA's offense isn't built for coming from behind; it has won only three games all season when trailing after six innings.

Savage still has the luxury of starting Bauer on Saturday. The right-hander struck out 11 in a win over Florida in the opening round. Cole, who fanned 13 in Monday's 6-3 win over TCU, is rested and ready to go as well.

"I feel like we're in good shape," Savage said. "We have plenty of arms that are very, very capable of doing what we need to do."

The best news of all for the Bruins is this: They won't have to face the unbeatable Matt Purke again.

Brian Bennett covers college sports for ESPN.com.

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