If you happened to be color blind, you could look around PK Park this weekend and assume Oregon baseball was thriving.
The sun’s been shining. The seats have been full. It’s basically the Ducks’ baseball dream, except for all the orange in the stands.
Of the 4,130 fans who attended Saturday’s Civil War game, roughly 50 percent were sporting some brand of Oregon State paraphernalia. Chants of “Let’s go, Beavers” were audible in the stadium as OSU closed out an 8-5 victory, its 12th in 13 games against the Ducks.
“It’s awesome,” OSU right fielder Tyler Malone said. “Beaver Nation is always there for us, always supporting us no matter where we go.”
Eugene is an easy trip, and PK Park typically has good seats available. Actually, I’m impressed that Duck fans showed up the way they did for a team that’s now 24-24 and has been outscored 123-60 in its past 11 conference games, 10 of which have been losses.
“It’s been worse,” Oregon coach George Horton said. “I get it. Their fans are passionate. They love their ballclub. It’s an hour drive.
“I think the Duck fans have been representative.”
You can say Oregon has a fairweather baseball crowd if you want, but Duck fans have shown they’ll turn out for good baseball or good weather. It’s the nights they get neither that are the problem.
When PK Park is full of fans, you can see the potential of the Civil War as a baseball rivalry. It could be so, so good. But right now it’s not, because the Ducks haven’t figured out how to hold up their end of the deal.
The maddening part is that, for once, offense isn’t Oregon’s biggest problem. The Ducks are hitting a respectable .268 as a team, the same as Oregon State. They’re seventh in the Pac-12 in home runs and runs scored.
Oregon’s problem has been pitching. The Ducks have a team ERA of 6.13 and have dealt the most walks in the conference, a total they padded by walking nine Beaver batters Saturday.
Looking at the ERAs for Oregon relievers is like reading the menu prices at an upscale taqueria: 6.75, 9.45, 13.50, 15.00.
It doesn’t help that Kenyon Yovan, the Ducks’ projected ace, has been out most of the season with a hand injury. Or that they haven’t found a way to utilize their best arm, Ryne Nelson, on a team that desperately needs innings.
Nelson began the season as a starter before moving to the bullpen in March. But Oregon’s starting pitching hasn’t been good enough to necessitate a closer and Nelson has struggled in that role, allowing the winning run in three straight appearances.
The Ducks haven’t announced a starter for Sunday’s series finale, but it likely won’t be Nelson.
“I’m not sure exactly who we’ll start, but certainly a fresh Nelson is a good thing for us,” Horton said. “You might see him in the second inning.”
Based on the way Oregon’s pitching staff has performed, the Ducks could be down three or four runs by then. You can’t pin all of that on how the Ducks have managed their pitchers, but you also can’t say they’ve gotten the most out of what they have.
“It gets a bit frustrating for them and for us,” Horton said. “There’s nothing we can really do about it but show confidence, and hopefully they can turn it around.”
The Ducks had high expectations for Yovan, and his injury certainly changed the complexion of their season. But if you want an example of fighting through misfortune, just look at the Beavers.
Kevin Abel, one of the heroes of last year’s College World Series, is out for the season. The Beavers’ usual Friday/Sunday starters, Brandon Eisert and Grant Gambrell, are sidelined this weekend.
So what happened? Bryce Fehmel moved into the Friday slot and threw a complete game. Dylan Pearce started Saturday and gave the Beavers five innings, leaving with a 7-4 lead.
With all they lost from last year’s team — including coach Pat Casey and No. 4 overall pick Nick Madrigal — the Beavers are 19-4 in the Pac-12 and sitting atop the conference standings. The Ducks are 8-15 and trending toward a fourth straight year of missing the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s tough to be consistent without good pitching,” Horton said. “The constant for (Oregon State) is they always pitch and always play defense.”
The Beavers aren’t as loaded as they’ve been, but from my view, this team has the same traits that defined Casey’s OSU squads. They play hard and they’re fun to watch, which is excuse enough to make the drive from Corvallis and catch a game at PK Park.
For Duck fans, it can be hard to see a silver lining. The problems are different but the results are the same: another year of coming up short in the Civil War.
Hey, at least the weather’s good.