Arizona coach Andy Lopez knows. You give Kurt Heyer the ball, don’t ask for it back.
Lopez didn’t want to ask for the ball. He went as long as reasonably possible with Heyer on Friday afternoon, when temperatures hovered around 100 degrees and the pressure-cooker was on an even higher setting.
Lopez sent Heyer out for the 10th inning against St. John’s in the first game of an NCAA Super Regional, hoping to coax one more inning out of his junior ace and stay away from what has been an unreliable bullpen.
Heyer managed only one more out, though. The Red Storm scratched out a run on an infield hit, a passed ball and a double that landed just fair down the left-field line. That was Heyer’s 129th pitch of the game.
That was it. Lopez signaled for reliever Mathew Troupe. Let’s just say Heyer wasn’t too thrilled with the coach’s decision.
“(Heyer) gave me a really nice, warm, fuzzy invitation when I came out to get him,” Lopez said.
That’s the bulldog in Heyer, and that mentality has served him so well in three seasons at Arizona, especially this year. He had completed seven of 16 starts and averaged just more than eight innings per outing before Friday’s game against St. John’s.
The numbers will say that it was far from Heyer’s most productive outing of the season. He allowed a career-high 17 hits — 16 of them singles. He matched his season high by giving up six runs. He didn’t get the win.
Troupe did after throwing three pitches and benefiting from a two-run rally in the bottom of the 10th, as Arizona won 7-6.
Heyer — stuck on 12 wins, for now — will have to settle for about the highest praise his coach could offer.
“That was as courageous a performance as I’ve coached in a long time,” Lopez said. “I know I will remember it the rest of my life.”
St. John’s knocked around Heyer for five runs in the fourth, starting the inning with five consecutive singles. Heyer settled down after that, pitching five scoreless innings to allow the Cats’ bats to get back into the game.
“We had that guy on the ropes,” said St. John’s Ed Blankmeyer. “I think that kid would have pitched forever. That was a gutty kid. … Nothing fancy. Just competes.”
Heyer walked four and walked none. The Arizona defense helped with three double plays and a SportsCenter Top 10 play from shortstop Alex Mejia. He ranged to the other side of second base to stab a bouncer and throw the batter out at first.
“Lopez told me it was a gutty performance, that most pitchers would probably fold,” said Heyer, who was a sixth-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday.
“I wanted to keep my team in that position where they could scratch a few runs across. I’m just really happy the offense was able to fight back, because if we did lose, I would have put this all on me.”