Monday, February 14, 2011

O, B.Ruther(ford), Where Art Thou?

Cold weather delayed the start of the 2011 ACU baseball season. The bullpen is apparently still frozen.

The Wildcats gave up 9 runs in the 7th inning in the season opener against Texas A&M-Kingsville and lost 14-13, then surrendered 6 in the 6th inning of a 7 inning game Saturday en route to a 7-4 loss.

Better late than never. Or not.

The 'Cats scratched out single runs in the 7th, 8th and 9th (with 2 out and no one on, in fact) and 3 in the 10th to rally from down 3-0 to salvage the series finale Saturday afternoon, 6-3.

With so many proven players in key positions having moved on - middle infielders Willie Uechi and Chris Hall, 1B Brett Bochsler, starter Cameron Aspaas - we knew fashioning a winner in 2011 would take some of the finest work of manager Britt Bonneau's 15 years on the top step of the ACU dugout. And certainly losing a season-opening series is no reason to suddenly get an itchy finger with the panic button.

But the early bullpen meltdowns would seem to indicate Bonneau's biggest challenge this season will be finding someone he trusts to deliver the dagger the way Brad "Rubber Arm" Rutherford did the last two years. Rutherford wasn't perfect. But he was prolific.

In 2009, he pitched in 44 games, going 10-3 with a 2.63 ERA, 11 saves and an opponent's batting average of .222. Last year, he saved 10 games, went 3-3, the same 2.63 ERA and an opponent's BA of .238.

Beyond the numbers, way beyond, Rutherford was the bullpen's anchor. From the moment he transferred in from Columbia Basin College in Washington state and put on a Wildcat uniform, Rutherford was Bonneau's closer. Which meant he needed to be ready at any point after the first pitch of the game. Like the original firemen of the '60s and '70s in Major League Baseball, Rutherford routinely pitched multiple innings and not just when his team was in the lead.

ACU, incredibly, for the 13th consecutive year was picked to win the now-13 team Lone Star Conference. Unlucky number? Perhaps only if Bonneau can't find someone to replace No. 35.

No comments: