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May 27, 2012
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- A week ago, the California baseball team was done. Kaput. Over. There was virtually no hope of reaching the postseason a year removed from an appearance in the College World Series. But, after three straight wins over top-15 teams, the cleat is on the other foot. Following a marathon 5-4 win over No. 11 Stanford on Friday night, the Bears kept the pedal to the metal with a 15-5 thrashing of the Cardinal on Saturday in front of nearly 3,000 fans at Sunken Diamond, ensuring their first series win on The Farm since 2008.
"It's been a couple years," smiled head coach David Esquer, who was honored as part of Stanford's back-to-back national title teams of 1987 and 1988 before the game, appearing just a bit out of place in his blue and gold attire amidst a sea of cardinal red. "It was the Charlie Cutler, B.J. Guinn years. I know we came here on a Sunday up 2-0, got up early in the game and ended up losing. This was very similar to last year in the sense that guys are kind of finding a groove now. Unfortunately it takes so much into the year where everyone kind of surrenders and says, 'Hey, this is the part I have to play; I don't have to be looking for playing time. This is the part I've got to play for the team, because we only have a few games left.' But, it eventually came, and it's good to see our guys have these types of games."
True freshman righty Keaton Siomkin -- who was battered for four runs on six hits in an ill-fated one-inning start against Stanford (37-16, 17-12 in Pac-12) on April 9 at Evans Diamond -- got a big measure of revenge against the Cardinal, throwing 5.0 innings of relief, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out three on 71 pitches to earn his first collegiate save, following 2.2 big innings from fellow freshman Chris Muse-Fisher.
"That's the same team that pounded Siomkin pretty good in that first inning at our place," Esquer smiled. "He gave up five runs in the first inning before he could even blink. To see him continue to try and work at it and get better, that's what they've done all year long is just continue to improve a little bit, and we try to do our best to put them in position to succeed. Right now, it's do-or-die. We've got to throw them out there."
Siomkin ended the affair on a high note, punctuating a swing-and-miss strike out of pinch hitter Luke Papas with an emphatic fist-pump.
"It was definitely good to make some pitches and rebound," Siomkin said. "I was throwing a change up, finally throwing some sliders, and really just throwing change ups and fastballs. I was trying to get ground balls, not trying to get strikeouts or anything.
"It definitely feels good to win a series. We played pretty well today, and we have to just come out tomorrow and finish it off."
The 2008 team that last took two in Palo Alto featured Major Leaguers Tyson Ross, Josh Satin and David Cooper, not to mention hot prospects Charlie Cutler, Chris Petrini, Blake Smith, Jeff Kobernus, Mark Canha and Brett Jackson. This team has Chadd Krist, who followed up his record-breaking performance on Friday with a two-double day at the dish on Saturday, pushing his school-record career doubles mark to 64. Krist's record-setting double on Friday was initially ruled a double, then switched to a single, before finally being changed to a double before Saturday's game.
Krist went 2-for-3 on the day with three runs and an RBI, as seven Bears registered multi-hit days en route to a 17-hit performance against the vaunted Cardinal pitching staff.
Cal (29-24, 12-17 in Pac-12) roughed up Stanford starter Brett Moonyham, who came in ranked seventh in the conference with a .224 opponent's batting average, fourth in strikeouts with 87 and ninth in fewest hits allowed (62).
"Our guys just kept adding on," Esquer said. "We never felt comfortable, to be honest. Our bullpen isn't very experienced, so even later in the game, with somewhat of a lead, we're still trying to offense because we just don't know we can hold them back."
Moonyham lasted just 3.2 innings, giving up nine runs - eight earned - on 10 hits and one walk while hitting one batter in a 50-pitch outing.
Blow by Blow
The Bears started the onslaught with four runs in the top of the second inning, keyed by a two-out RBI double from Chad Bunting to cash in a one-out double down the left field line by Krist. Sophomore second baseman Derek Campbell then came up with the first of his three hits on the day, sending a Moonyham curveball on a soft line to shallow center for a Texas League RBI single. Sophomore third baseman Mike Reuvekamp followed up by taking a Moonyham fastball in the left hip, before the white-hot Danny Oh shot a single through the hole on the left side to plate Campbell. Oh finished the day 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI, and over his last six games -- all multi-hit efforts -- he has hit .654 (17-for-26) and has reached base 25 times in 34 plate appearances for a .735 on-base percentage.
Junior right fielder Vince Bruno then came up with the Bears' fourth hit with two outs by bouncing an RBI single through the left side to make it 4-0, Cal.
"It was huge," Krist said of getting the early lead. "It basically went off of yesterday's moments, to get a four-spot right there and really showing that we're out to play. We weren't just going to lay down because we played a long game, everyone's tired and we didn't even take BP, so it was nice to see that show-and-go worked for us."
Bears starter Michael Theofanopoulos got himself into a spot of trouble in the bottom of the second, though, after fanning powerful Austin Wilson on a reach-back 90 mph fastball up and away. Theofanopoulos lost command of his explosive heater, walking Alex Blandino, Brett Michael Doran and Eric Smith to load the bases. Esquer was quick with the hook, removing the struggling sophomore in favor of soft-tossing freshman Chris Muse-Fisher.
Muse-Fisher got ahead of dangerous Kenny Diekroeger 0-2 on a swing-and-miss 74 mph change, before his third offering went wild down and in to get away from sophomore catcher Andrew Knapp -- starting his first collegiate game behind the dish to give Krist a rest after catching all 18 innings the night before. Knapp chased after the errant missive, and fired high to Muse-Fisher at home, allowing two runs to score.
Muse-Fisher recovered, though, striking out Diekroeger on a looping curve and then getting Jake Stewart to bounce out to second to end the threat.
"I just kept trying to get ground balls, and they're making plays behind me, and if they don't get one, they'll get the next one," Siomkin said. "I just have to keep pitching."
The Bears got the momentum back in the top of the fifth, hanging a five-spot on Moonyham, again, all with two outs.
Campbell led off the frame by skulling a grounder up the middle, where Diekroeger ranged behind the bag, backhanded the drive and threw to first, but Campbell was just fast enough to leg out the infield single.
Reuvekamp lined out to shallow right center before Oh yanked a curve through the right side for a single, moving Campbell to third.
With the count 1-1, Bruno sent a bunt up the first base line, where Moonyham fielded the ball, spun around and threw wide to first, allowing Bruno to reach second and Campbell to come in to score.
With runners at second and third, reigning conference player of the year Tony Renda stepped to the dish. Renda had gone 1-for-8 the night before, and went 0-for-4 on Saturday, but in this particular turn at bat, Renda laid off a tantalizing 3-2 change up low and in to work a seven-pitch walk to load the bases for Mitch Delfino.
After a mound conference to calm Moonyham down, Delfino grounded the junior's 1-2 offering softly to the hole at short. Diekroeger backhanded the roller and erased Renda at second, but the throw from second baseman Doran was controversially deemed too late at first by umpire Tim Vessey, allowing Oh to score to make it 6-2, Bears.
With that break, Krist drilled a 1-0 pitch from Moonyham down the left field line and into the corner for a run-scoring double. A wild pitch to Knapp from newly-entered reliever Garrett Hughes brought Delfino in to score, igniting a raucous celebration in the Cal dugout.
The Bears, though, were not quite done with Hughes, the second of eight Cardinal hurlers to climb the bump on the afternoon. After a walk to Knapp, Hughes sent a 1-1 sinking fastball between Smith's legs for a run-scoring passed ball.
Stanford plated a single run in the bottom of the fourth when a sacrifice fly from Diekroeger cashed in a one-out single up the middle from Blandino.
With Siomkin on the mound in the bottom of the fifth, when Sunday's scheduled Cardinal moundsman Stephen Piscotty sent a tough grounder up the middle and off the chest of Renda at short for Renda's first error at the position. Powerful first baseman Brian Ragira sent a 1-2 fastball sharply to the left side to Renda for a would-be tailor-made double play ball, but the junior infielder couldn't find the handle, putting two men on with one out for Wilson and his team-leading nine home runs.
The middle infield then sealed the breach when Wilson sent a 2-2 grounder over the bag at second for Campbell, who fielded the ball behind the bag and flipped it behind his back to Renda, who stepped on the bag for the second out. Though the throw to first was not in time to complete the twin-killing, it provided some much-needed momentum heading into the top of the sixth, following a one-pitch fly-out to left center by Blandino.
Following a one-out walk to Krist, side-winding reliever A.J. Talt pegged Knapp in the right arm on a 2-1 pitch, before Bunting moved both runners into scoring position on a groundout to the mound. Campbell drove the first pitch he saw up the middle for a line-drive two-run single.
Stanford responded with two runs in the bottom of the frame on a freak play to Campbell, who, on a two-hopper from designated hitter Dominic Jose, backed right into the back lip of the outfield grass, caught a spike, and had to eat the play, which was ruled an infield single, scoring pinch hitter Tyler Gaffney with two outs to make it 11-4.
"I don't know exactly what happened," said Esquer. "It's just a strange play that you don't see happen very often. It cost us two runs, but he got them [earlier] with a base hit to drive in two."
Piscotty then came up with his first hit of the weekend after an 0-for-11 start to the series, lining the first pitch he saw from Siomkin into left for a run-scoring single.
"I think he had to get more than three outs for us a couple times," Esquer said. "There were a couple plays at shortstop we didn't make for him, but at that point, with a little bit of a lead, it's about managing the inning. We just didn't need him to try to do too much, just manage it. They could score one an inning and we would still have been OK."
That was the last time, though, that the Cardinal would get a look at the game, as the Bears tallied three more runs in the seventh on a wild pitch from reliever Spencer Linney, a run-scoring single from Delfino and a fading liner to left for an RBI single by Knapp. Cal added another run for good measure in the top of the ninth, when Renda -- aboard after taking a first-pitch fastball to the back on a pitch thrown behind him by reliever Elliott Byers which prompted a warning to both benches after a tense stare-down from the fiery Renda -- scored on a single to center by Bunting, who finished the day 2-for-5 with a run and two RBI, giving him 40 runs driven in on the season.
"He's not swinging his best," Esquer said of Renda. "But, at not his best, he's still able to contribute to us. I think his swing will be back by tomorrow."
Notebook -- The pesky Reuvekamp -- a busy cup of tea if ever there was one -- irritated Stanford pitchers with his cha-cha'ing on the base paths and has played solid defense wherever he's been placed on the infield in recent weeks, but he's contributed most at the plate.
"The way he plays, it's kind of a get-down-and-dirty kind of play," Esquer said. "He's willing to take a hit-by-pitch, he's willing to bunt, he's willing to dive on the ground, he's willing to steal a base -- all those things."
Over his past four games, the sophomore transfer from Diablo Valley College -- pitching coach Mike Neu's former post as head coach a year ago -- has gone 7-for-15 with seven runs scored, two RBI and a double. Over that same stretch, Reuvekamp has posted a .556 on-base percentage with three strikeouts in 18 plate appearances.
Reuvekamp is now hitting .326 in his first season at Cal, with a .434 on-base percentage, five HBPs, four walks, two doubles, one sacrifice fly and three sacrifice bunts.
-- In the past three games, the Bears have churned out 46 hits, with a team batting average of .333, with eight extra-base hits.
"I think that things are just falling for us right now," Krist said. "I think, as a team, we've got a nice approach, getting some pitches to hit, we're not overly aggressive and we're battling with two strikes."
-- After tallying his Jon Zuber-tying 61st double on April 29 at Oregon, Chadd Krist saw his team rattle off 18 doubles before he finally broke the career two-bagger mark on Friday night. Counting that half-circuit, Krist's three hits in eight plate appearances have been of the two-base variety.
"I wasn't really pressing for a double," Krist said. "I wanted it to happen, but as long as I was still getting hits, that's all that really mattered. I figured it would come eventually, as long as I kept hitting the ball hard. I wasn't too worried about it. Yesterday was definitely a big sigh of relief to finally get that, and later, for it to be changed to a single, I was upset, but it got changed the other way and I got two more today, so I guess that leaves no room for anything."
-- Campbell, after struggling through early defensive and offensive woes in his second collegiate season, has come on strong of late. In four games since sliding over to second -- where he played with great effect during last year's Super Regional and College World Series -- Campbell is 8-for-13 with four RBI and two runs scored.
Cal will conclude the 2012 season on Sunday at 1 PM at Sunken Diamond, with junior lefty Justin Jones taking the hill against Piscotty. The Cardinal bullpen is all but empty, having used a total of 12 over two days. The Bears aren't in much better shape, having used eight hurlers -- including all of their top relievers -- but those relievers have thrown a combined 18.0 innings, allowing 13 hits and five runs with eight walks and 14 strikeouts.
"That's why we won," Krist said. "To have that kind of a bullpen - a shut-down bullpen -- I mean, I don't know how many innings Logan Scott threw or Joey Donofrio and all those guys and Keaton and Muse today -- it was great to have that. [Michael] Lowden yesterday, too. It's just nice to know that when the starter comes out, we've still got guys that are going to shut the door."
Cal does have a not-so-secret weapon out of the pen for Sunday: senior Matt Flemer. The veteran righty threw 109 pitches in 7.2 innings of work on Friday - not an unusually-heavy load for the durable team leader - but he was still out in the outfield throwing with pitching coach Mike Neu Saturday morning and looked to be ready to go if need be. Flemer was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection last season as the Bears' closer, and has told Esquer that he will be available to close things out on Sunday if the situation arises.
"If it comes to it, Flemer will be available for an inning, for sure," Esquer said. "I think it's going to be two pretty thin teams looking for a starter to go pretty deep tomorrow, with Piscotty going and Jones, we're looking for both guys to maybe both go a little ways."
As with the rest of the weekend, it will be all-hands on-deck as far as pitching is concerned, with Jones having thrown the 18th inning on Friday to earn his second collegiate save. Jones's first save came last season when, after rain postponed the first game of a series against Ohio State with Erik Johnson on the mound, Jones threw eight innings of scoreless "relief" as part of the continued game on Sunday.
"We're going to start him off and we'll be careful with him, as far as pitch count," Esquer said of Jones. "We have to [have a short leash], and I didn't want to have to use him twice in a weekend, but he was willing to pitch [Friday] and we'll watch him carefully tomorrow."
Sophomore lefty Kyle Porter -- who formed an integral part of the bullpen last season before shoulder trouble slowed his development into a starter this season -- will also be available out of the pen, along with senior righty Stephen Pistoresi (5.28 ERA in 15.1 innings over 11 appearances), sophomore lefty Matt Evanoff (2.84 ERA in 6.1 innings over eight appearances)) and hard-throwing junior righty Ryan Wertenberger (10.50 ERA in four appearances).
If the Bears come up with a sweep with a win on Sunday, it will give them four straight wins over teams that are likely to be named national seeds on Monday, giving Cal a strong case to at the very least be considered for a postseason berth.
The win over UCLA on Sunday bumped the Bears' RPI from 75 to 65, and a sweep of the Cardinal could get them into that mid-40s sweet spot. With No. 16 Arizona State (35-18, 17-11) ineligible for postseason play, Cal could get an extra boost, considering that over the past 10 seasons, the Pac-12 has sent an average of 4.6 teams to the postseason. Over the past four years, that average has jumped to 5.5. With five teams -- the Cardinal, the Sun Devils, the Bruins, Oregon and Arizona -- ranked in the top 25 in every poll, the conference is stronger than it has been in quite some time. In 2010, when the Pac-10 had eight teams make the tournament, three teams were ranked in the top 25 in the second-to-last week of the season.
If the Bears win out, and Washington finishes off a season-ending sweep of rival Washington State, Cal will move into a three-way tie for seventh in the conference. Since the Bears have won five out of seven against those teams, Cal will own the tiebreaker against both schools.
"I think, in our minds, we don't have anything to lose," Krist said. "I think if we put added pressure on ourselves, that's going to be negative. We're going to go out tomorrow, just like we've been playing and hanging with our teammates. We win, we get a playoff berth, and that's great. We go from there, and we do what we do. I think we're just really focused on wanting to sweep Stanford at home. That's a big achievement."
With Arizona State out of the mix, that means that the Bears will be in prime position to earn the last tournament spot in the conference, if six teams are taken. Considering Cal's run last year, and a strong finish to 2012, the selection committee will have to take a long look at the Bears, who will have gone 4-2 against top-15 teams -- the second and third-place finishers in the conference -- to conclude the regular season.
"I think, at the very least, they're probably going to watch our score, for sure, tomorrow, and maybe see how things shake out among some of the other teams in the country," Esquer said. "Unfortunately, we probably could have taken care of business weeks before, but we haven't done that. At least, we'll probably rattle some cages tomorrow if we win."