Gold Comes Up Platinum

April 13, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

One might quibble over numbers in debating whether Brandon Gold’s Sunday work was his best of the season, but the case closes with context. In Georgia Tech’s series-clinching 4-3 win over No. 15 Virginia, Gold went platinum.

The sophomore right-hander was stellar in pitching seven innings, allowing three hits, one earned run, striking out seven and walking a pair.

It’s not just what you do, but when.

His was quite a nice line, and it shines all the brighter when considering that it helped Tech (24-12, 9-9 ACC) maintain a second-place tie in the Coastal division with North Carolina (22-14, 9-9) and move away from Virginia (21-14, 7-11) and Virginia Tech (17-20 ,7-11).

This has become a habit.

Five of Gold’s seven starts have come in ACC “rubber” matches, games that would swing a series one way or the other. He’s 4-0 in such situations with a no decision in what became a loss to the Tar Heels.

Overall, he’s 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA and a team-best .211 batting average against.

Given Tech’s 14-4 loss Friday to Virginia at Russ Chandler Stadium, and thinking back to the Cavs’ 14 hits Friday and 16 Saturday, the Jackets’ rebound felt all the better and Gold went a long way toward locking it down.

“Virginia has great pitching so we needed to try to match it, and I think Brandon did,” head coach Danny Hall said after the Jackets won for the seventh time in nine games in moving to 8-2 in one-run decisions and 7-7 against ranked teams. “When you lose on Friday, it makes it even tougher to [win a series].”

Gold’s purity was both old and new.

After starting 50 games at third base as a freshman, and pitching nary an inning last season, he relieved twice early this season before taking a starter’s yoke with seven innings of one-hit, shutout duty in a win over Indiana State on March 1.

He threw eight innings of shutout ball (five hits) against Notre Dame for a March 8 win against No. 23 Notre Dame to swing that series. The next week, he fired seven shutout innings (two hits) for a win at Duke to clinch that set.

So there’s a track record, if still short, of solid hurling.

One Sunday back, though, he allowed 11 hits and six earned runs while logging 5.2 innings. Yes, Tech won that series at Virginia Tech, but Gold was stuck with that jersey-feels-prickly feeling.

That was his third straight sketchy post, including a no-decision at UNC and a loss taken at Louisville.

So, he took special satisfaction out from under Sunday’s slate gray skies.

“I’ve had a couple shaky, not-so-good outings the last couple weeks so it was good to get a good team win, a good series win,” he said after throwing 93 pitches. “It’s a huge swing point for us . . . it was big to win the series.”

To say Gold was platinum would be only partially figurative.

Platinum, after all, is a malleable metal and the Johns Creek High graduate is similarly flexible on diamonds.

He started at third Friday at third base, knocking two hits, scoring a run and driving in another.

On the mound, where Tech assistant Jason Howell earlier this season spoke of Gold thusly, “You just see a steady heart-rate monitor, which, from a coaching standpoint you love to see,” the 6-foot-3 sophomore flat-lined again Sunday.

Remember, platinum — a noble metal — is highly un-reactive. So is Gold.

He never flinched Sunday, allowing a lone run in his final inning of work. That came with a penciled asterisk.

Virginia’s Pavin Smith led off the seventh with a triple off the fence in left-center, the only crushed ball of day for the Cavs. Right fielder Kevin Doherty followed with sky ball to right field.

Tech’s Ryan Peurifoy fielded, and fired to the plate. That throw arrived in time, but a tight one-hopper was more than A.J. Murray could handle in an emergency start for Arden Pabst — who Saturday was hit by a pitch on one of his wrists.

That merely pulled the Cavs to within 4-1, and Gold soon conned Virginia catcher Robbie Coman into a 6-4-3 double play.

Hall Sunday referenced his newish starter’s tendency not to need new underwear when the going gets tough, and suggested that as he pitches more, he’ll be better still.

That’d be something. Gold looks pretty comfortable now.

“The more that you practice . . . slow heart beat when you’re on the mound even when big pitches are coming,” he said when asked about the subjective notion that `comfort’ might improve effect.

“I felt really good in the bullpen today. I thought it might be something special.”

Gold was done after seven, reluctantly.

“I said something to coach, but he told me I was done and Zac [Ryan] was going in there so I knew that he would take care of the job,” he said.

Ryan finished the game, deflecting a two-run home run in the eighth inning by Virginia sub Charlie Cody.

It’s not right to suggest that Ryan saved a surprise starter, even though Gold didn’t pitch an inning as a freshman when Tech had a deeper inventory of pitchers. Hall & staff recruited the Alpharetta lad thinking he could double up.

But this?

“I don’t know if I expected what I’ve seen, but I thought that he could be a very good pitcher,” Hall said. “The more he does it, the better and more comfortable I think he’s going to become. I think we probably saw that today. That was probably his best performance against a quality opponent.”

So, you wonder . . .

With slugger Kel Johnson (sprained ankle) and Pabst out Sunday, Grant Wruble was designated hitter in Gold’s spot. Might Gold bat for himself when pitching?

Jake Davies was the last Tech pitcher to start and hit, at the end of the 2012 season, when the Jackets pulled themselves together down the stretch with baling wire, gum and tape to win the ACC tournament.

Gold has a .277 batting average and a home run while hitting in 20 of 36 games.

“I think he’ll continue to get better, and we’re fortunate that he can help us two ways,” Hall said. “With a series riding on the line, I didn’t want to do it today, but it is something that could happen for sure.”

As the Jackets look to clinch their season series against Georgia Tuesday in Russ Chandler, they look forward all the more to Kel Johnson’s possible return next weekend at Boston College. Tech was 16-7 with Johnson, and is 8-5 without him.

“We’re hoping we’re going to get him back next weekend. He has jogged on it the last two days, and he’s been taking batting practice this week,” Hall said. “I’m hoping another week of some rehab and strengthening that possibly he could get back there next weekend.”

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