By Brian Gomez
Although Sun Devil third baseman Dennis Wyrick has questioned himself several times throughout an adventurous collegiate career that has included a hearty blend of the spectacular and the unforeseen, he was never more certain about anything than what he did Saturday night.
With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and his team locked in a 4-4 tie against Utah, Wyrick laid down a bunt. It wasn't the type of move you'd expect from a guy who stands 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 215 pounds.
"He doesn't look like your prototypical bunter, he's like Kirby Puckett," Arizona State assistant coach Mike Rooney said. "He looks like more of a fullback than a bunting guy."
But then again, the expected hasn't always come to fruition for Wyrick, who didn't even finish the 2002 season after being suspended for breaking team rules.
"Dennis has had his ups and downs, but he is a special kid and a real big part of this program," said ASU head coach Pat Murphy. "You can never underestimate a guy like Dennis because he does so many things that don't show up every day. He battles and never gives up. What he did in the eighth inning with that bunt single is exactly the type of ballplayer that Dennis Wyrick is."
Junior second baseman Jared Pena cleanly fielded the slow-rolling ground ball and fired to senior first baseman Jake Jordison, however, Wyrick beat the throw and suddenly represented the game-winning run. Junior second baseman Steve Garrabrants brought him home with a double to the right-center field gap and sophomore catcher Tuffy Gosewisch smacked an RBI single before junior right-hander Ryan Schroyer shot down the side in order in the top of the ninth inning to cap ASU's 6-4 victory over Utah.
"It just looked like a good situation for it," Wyrick said about his pinch-hit bunt that helped the Sun Devils extend their winning streak to 18 games. "As a team, we take pride in being able to execute certain things when we need them, like hit-and-runs and bunts. I was just trying to get something going and it worked out well."
Neither Rooney nor ASU head coach Pat Murphy gave Wyrick the signal to lay down a bunt. It was simply something he did in an attempt to take Utah freshman left-hander Jason Price out of his rhythm. Price had been nearly flawless up to that point, allowing only one hit in three-plus innings of relief.
For a player of his stature, Wyrick surprisingly ran the bases with relative ease. He had to hustle down to first base, but after Garrabrants' double, he quickly rounded third and trotted home without even having to slide.
"I think that's the fastest I've ran in a long time," Wyrick said. "Running around the bases, I felt pretty fast. If Rooney had tried to stop me, I don't know if I would have stopped."
Wyrick says he attempts bunts from time to time in an effort to provide his team with a boost. Most pitchers probably don't know that he was a two-time all-state selection in football at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Calif.
"It doesn't look like I can run or bunt, but it's in there," Wyrick said. "I've done that before when we're struggling or when we need a little momentum."
Last season, Wyrick was in position to make those kinds of plays more often. While starting 10 games behind the plate and 14 at the corner, Wyrick batted .381 in Pac-10 play and he had eight multi-hit outings.
However, Wyrick violated a team rule and missed out on an opportunity to complete a stellar junior season that was almost as impressive as his sophomore campaign during which he earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention accolades after batting .360 with 62 hits and 27 RBIs.
Wyrick has since put that incident behind him and he is now posting better numbers than ever before. Through 28 games this season, Wyrick ranks seventh on the team in hitting at a .378 clip. He has 21 total bases and 10 RBIs to go along with a .467 slugging percentage and a .463 on-base percentage.
"I didn't feel like I had something to prove, it was more like I had nothing to lose," said Wyrick, who has started eight games this year at third base and has been used 14 other times as a pinch hitter or as a defensive replacement. "It was a big moment in my life learning that I had to grow up and having to deal with that, but I think it worked out for the best. It made me a better person because I realized that I had to take things more seriously and that I had to be more responsible."
For the season the senior is hitting .378 (17-for-45) while playing in 22 games and making eight starts. He hit his first career home run in the season-opening series at Hawaii-Hilo. For his career Wyrick is a .339 hitter with 153 hits and 76 RBI in 152 games (129 starts).
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