Barry Timko got caught up in the moment Friday night.
“It was my first time starting on Friday night,” smiled the Nevada Wolf Pack lefthander. “I liked it. It kind of gets your adrenaline going.”
Timko used his adrenaline as well as pin-point control to beat the San Diego State Aztecs, 4-2, in the opening game of this important Mountain West series. The junior went six innings and allowed just two hits, two walks and two runs while striking out a pair to improve to 4-1 on the season.
“The coaches told me on Wednesday that I might start on Friday,” Timko said. “But I didn’t know for sure.”
Neither did the Wolf Pack.
“We weren’t sure we would start Barry against (the Aztecs),” Wolf Pack coach Jay Johnson said. “But I just figured that if we were going to start him, this would be the game to do it since they (San Diego State) were just getting off the plane and they weren’t used to the ballpark yet.”
The Aztecs, the second-best hitting team in the Mountain West with a .302 team average, also never got used to Timko. The 6-foot-3 lefthander didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and faced just one hitter over the minimum through six innings. Johnson took him out after Ty France doubled off the center field fence to score Tim Zier with no outs in the seventh, cutting the Pack's lead to 4-1.
“He was starting his third time through that lineup and I just didn’t want him to face all those good hitters again,” Johnson said. “But he had done his job. That was the best pitching performance we’ve gotten this year considering the opposition.”
Timko retired the first nine Aztec hitters and took a 1-0 lead into the fourth. Only one of the first nine San Diego State hitters were able to get the ball out of the infield and five of them were retired on ground balls, all to the left side.
“Barry’s a workhorse,” said Wolf Pack shortstop Kyle Hunt, whose solo homer in the third inning gave the Pack its 1-0 lead. “He works his tail off, doing whatever is asked of him.”
Greg Allen singled off Timko to start the fourth and Timko walked Brad Haynal to open the fifth but neither one scored. Timko got Seby Zavala to fly out to center with Allen on third to end the fourth inning and got Steve Pallares to bounce into a double play (started by Hunt) to wipe Haynal off the bases in the fifth.
“I just tried to keep the ball down,” said Timko, who now has a 3.70 earned run average over seven starts and four relief appearances this season. “Early in the game I threw a majority of fastballs and later on I went to the changeup more. But the whole key is to just keep the ball down.”
Timko was able to get 11 outs on ground balls.
“That inning when they scored (the seventh) I elevated a couple pitches and got in trouble,” Timko said. “But before that I was able to keep the ball down. That is a great hitting team. They can swing it.”
"(Pitching coach Dave Lawn) did an incredible job of calling the pitches,” Johnson said. “And Barry did a great job of throwing his three pitches for strikes and keeping everything down. When he’s down in the zone like that it’s hard to elevate the ball.
"You know, Barry is the most improved player in the program this season. He didn't even have that great of a fall (fall practices). But he's worked hard and made great strides."
While San Diego State was hitting everything into the ground, the Wolf Pack was able to elevate three balls over the fence. Hunt, Kewby Meyer and Austin Byer all hit solo home runs to give Timko a lead. Scott Kaplan also drove in Trenton Brooks with a single as the Pack took a 4-0 lead into the seventh inning.
"Our offense is coming around," Johnson said. "The last few games we've had a lot of quality at-bats."
Hunt now has two home runs this year, both off San Diego State starter Bubba Derby. He also homered off Derby in a 10-4 loss to the Aztecs in San Diego on March 8.
“I guess I just see the ball well off him,” smiled Hunt. “This time it was a changeup. The coaches told me to sit on the changeup because they were throwing a lot of off-speed stuff. I was just able to put a good swing on it.”
Byler, who has six home runs this season, has now homered in three consecutive games.
“I’m feeling real comfortable at the plate lately,” Byler said. “The coaches have been working with me and we’ve made some adjustments and it’s allowing me to drive the ball better.”
“We’ve made some small adjustments in his swing,” Johnson said. “He’s now able to turn on the ball better."
Colby Blueberg and Adam Whitt came out of the bullpen over the final three innings to nail down the victory for Timko. Blueberg went 1 2/3 innings and Whitt pitched the final 1 1/3 inning to pick up his seventh save of the year.
Blueberg, appearing in his 20th game, allowed two hits and no runs. Whitt came to his rescue in the eighth to fan France with runners on first and second to end the inning. The game ended when Whitt struck out Pallares and catcher Jordan Devencenzi threw out Zavala trying to steal second.
“The back end of our bullpen with those two guys (Blueberg and Whitt) is the best,” Hunt said. “We’re real confident when those guys are in the game.”
The Wolf Pack is also gaining confidence as a team. The Pack has now won four games in a row for the first time this season to improve to 17-14 overall and 9-7 in the Mountain West. San Diego State, now 2-2 against the Wolf Pack this year, fell to 25-9 and 10-6.
“We’re playing well, and we’re playing hard,” Byler said. “We’ve always played hard but now we’re starting to put the little things together to win some games. Everyone is having a lot of fun.”
The Wolf Pack, now 9-2 at home this season, will conclude its three-game series against the Aztecs with a 2 p.m. game on Saturday and a 1 p.m. game on Sunday.