It was a little more than a week ago when senior closer Blair Erickson stepped out of the bullpen in the ninth inning to finish the masterpiece thrown by his teammate and starter Scott Gorgen.
Gorgen had pitched eight scoreless innings against No. 12-ranked Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine Head Coach Dave Serrano called on Erickson, like he had done so many times, to close out the win for the Anteaters.
UCI led 2-0 and needed just three outs to preserve an impressive win over the team that many predicted would capture yet another the Big West Title.
The night was also a chance for Erickson to write himself into the record books as he was one save short of tying the all-time NCAA record set by former USC pitcher Jack Krawcyzk.
Despite his 48 career saves and four years of experience, Erickson seemed rattled, almost like he had never pitched a ninth inning in his career.
Erickson hit the first batter he faced and walked the next two. After throwing just 19 pitches and recording zero outs, Serrano lifted his All-American closer and replaced him with Dylan Axelrod.
Luckily, Axelrod got out of the jam and UCI prevailed with a 2-1 win.
‘I had a stretch there where I came in and just wasn’t going in the zone,’ Erickson said. ‘For me it’s all about throwing strikes and getting ahead early. When I can’t do that it really makes it tough on me because I start doubting myself [and] doubting my ability.’
There is an old saying in baseball that closers must have short term memories to survive and Erickson showed why his ability to forget what happened on the mound against Fullerton makes him one of the best closers in all of college baseball.
Erickson rebounded with the same blistering speed as one of his marquee fastballs, pitching a scoreless ninth inning on Tuesday, April 10 to protect a 5-4 Anteater win over UCLA. The save gave him 49 in his career and tied him for the all-time record.
And on Saturday, April 14, he finally made history.
Erickson broke the NCAA all-time saves record when he retired all three Cal Poly batters in order to protect a 3-2 UCI win.
Erickson struck out Cal Poly’s Bryan Kepner on a called third strike, got Adam Buschini to fly out to left field and forced pinch hitter Kyle Carson to pop out to UCI second basemen Cody Cipriano to end the game.
The save gave Erickson 50 for his career, one more than former leader Krawcyzk.
‘I’d be lying to you if I said that it wasn’t on my shoulders,’ Erickson said. ‘It feels good to get it over with.’
It was a humbling experience for Erickson, one that almost didn’t come to be.
After finishing a dominant junior campaign, Erickson was drafted in the tenth round by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Faced with the decision to jump to the majors or return to Irvine, Erickson chose the latter and it has allowed him to not only break the all-time record but finish his education, something his parents, both of whom are teachers, are surely proud of.
‘There were a lot of factors that made me stay back for school. Both my parents are teachers so obviously education is pretty big in my family. The main thing when I made that decision was the commitment to help this team move on to places that we haven’t been yet.’
Erickson is almost guaranteed to be drafted once again at the end of the season and has quickly become one of the most highly touted closers since a young man by the name of Huston Street graduated from the University of Texas in 2004.
‘I love baseball and if I’m given the opportunity to keep playing, I will definitely take that opportunity but that’s one of the fortunate things about having the parents that I do,’ Erickson said. ‘Education is always there for me and if baseball doesn’t work out it’s unfortunate, but I have [my education] to fall back on.’
This season Erickson has recorded 10 saves and struck out 20 batters in only 14 innings of work. His ERA stands at a minuscule 2.57 and is a big reason why the Anteaters are currently in the hunt for a Big West Title following two impressive wins against both Long Beach and Cal Stat Fullerton.
Though Erickson might get most of the individual accolades, he is still fighting for one of the few aspects of baseball which can’t be recorded as a statistic