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May 14, 2012
Oh leaves Cougars breathless
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BERKELEY -- When senior California left fielder Danny Oh came chugging around third in the bottom of the first inning, headed for a rib-rattling collision with Washington State catcher P.J. Jones, little did he know that he was en route to the best offensive day of his career.
After a breath-stealing crash with Jones, Oh went on to record four more hits, going 5-for-5 with four runs scored, one RBI and a walk from the leadoff spot, coming within one hit of tying a school record as the Bears recorded a 13-8 non-conference win over the Cougars.
"I joked with [third base coach] Tony Arnerich a little bit when I got on third base: 'Maybe you should punch me [in the ribs] every time, before the game starts, because the swing feels good," Oh laughed.
Oh's day fueled a much-needed 17-hit game for the Bears, with six players recording base hits on the afternoon.
"I wanted to see that," said Cal head coach David Esquer. "I've never seen a six-hit game, but he had a great day. He's kind of battled it all year long. He's from Washington, he played well against them the last weekend, so I wanted to get him in there, for sure ... A kid gets up off the ground like that and had the day he had, that's a little toughness there."
Oh raised his batting average from .260 to .297 with his big day, as the win broke the Bears' a three-game losing streak and continued Washington State's four-game slide.
"It was two teams struggling to find a win, battling each other today," Esquer said. "There was desperation there. That being said, Washington State is a good, good team. Both teams are searching for something to help them win games, so that was a good win for us."
All six Cal players who recorded hits had multi-hit days, literally breaking the scoreboard for much of the day, as the Bears (26-22) scored in double digits for the first time since scoring 12 against Texas on March 31.
"We haven't done that in a long time," Esquer said. "I don't think we've had over double-digit runs in ages, have we?"
Sophomore third baseman Mike Reuvekamp -- who came in hitting just .233 -- went 3-for-5 to raise his average to .285, and several other Cal hitters broke out of offensive funks, as well.
"He's a scrappy player, and that's kind of who we have to be; we have to be scrappier to win some games," Esquer said.
Senior catcher Chadd Krist went 2-for-4 following a 1-for-11 series against then-No. 10 Arizona and junior second baseman Tony Renda went 3-for-4 with a run and three RBI, along with two walks.
"What changed? I started using Mitch Delfino's bat," Renda laughed. "It seems to have a lot of hits in it. I started using his bat. That's all it was."
Getting more serious, Renda described the struggles he's gone through over the past several games.
"My timing was a little off, I was missing good pitches and my pitch selection wasn't very good," Renda said. "I was swinging at bad pitches and missing good pitches. It was just a bad combination. After both Saturday's game and Sunday's game, I went and hit in the cages, tried to figure some stuff out, and I think it kind of clicked today. I was seeing the ball well. I had two walks, too. I was definitely seeing the ball well."
Renda had been on a slide over the past four games, going 1-for-13, far below his usual production. As Renda went, so did the Bears, losing three of those four games.
"Tony Renda, it's kind of amazing," Esquer said. "You watch the extent of his slump -- yesterday and two at-bats today -- he comes back and gets three hits. That's watching a hitter figure it out in the span of three or four at-bats. You could tell he didn't feel good yesterday. You could tell he didn't feel good the first two at-bats, and then he figured out a way. That's a great hitter. That's among the best hitters if not the best hitter in the history of this program."
Left-handed starting pitcher Chris Muse-Fisher baffled the Cougars (24-24) through six innings, allowing two runs on seven scattered hits with no walks and three strikeouts. The soft-tossing Muse-Fisher was brutally efficient, needing 77 pitches in the longest outing of his collegiate career and using his tangled repertoire of breaking and off-speed pitches to avoid solid contact.
"He really did give us a hell of a start," Esquer said. "He's one of those guys that just frustrates you every time you play against him. He can be even more frustrating, here at Evans Diamond, when the wind blows in, and you feel like you can drive a ball against him, it just gets caught up and doesn't go anywhere. He's one of those frustrating lefties, but as he gets a little stronger -- not that he's going to be a power pitcher -- everything will get a little better."
Muse-Fisher surrendered a bleeding single to Kyle Johnson to lead off the first, and after a sacrifice bunt from designated hitter Nate Blackham the Pac-12 leader in home runs - first baseman Taylor Ard -- slammed an RBI double into the left center field gap to put the Cougars up 1-0.
Instead of folding as they did after first-inning scores over the weekend, though, the Bears answered in kind. Oh led off with a line-drive single to left, and was bunted over by junior designated hitter Vince Bruno. After a walk to Renda, junior first baseman Delfino -- 23-for-48 on the season with runners in scoring position -- sent a ground ball up the middle and under the glove of shortstop Ian Sagdal.
"I was rounding the base, and Tony said I had to get going," Oh said. "It was sharply-hit, and so I just ran up the line and I see the catcher sort of coming towards me, down the line, and I tried to go on the outside and the throw led the catcher outside. That's when I knew I had to brace for impact."
Oh went chest-to-shoulder with Jones, sending both men sprawling into the dirt. With Jones supine, Oh slowly crawled on all fours and tagged the plate before slumping over onto the ground as Delfino took second before play was stopped to allow trainers to attend to both parties.
"He just knocked the wind out of me," Oh said. "I got it back, though, so I was fine. No serious injuries or anything. I'm good."
Sophomore right fielder Andrew Knapp struck out and Krist walked, loading the bases for junior center fielder Darrell Matthews, who sent a line drive to center that hung up just enough for Johnson to snag it and leave the bases loaded.
Cal notched a second run in the bottom of the second thanks once again to Oh and sophomore third baseman Reuvekamp. Reuvekamp sent a one-out line drive single over the left side of the infield, and Oh sent a grounder over first and into right, putting men at first and third for Bruno, who sent a sacrifice fly out to left.
Muse-Fisher gave up two one-out singles in the top of the fourth and then a two-out groundball single up the middle to new catcher Collin Slaybaugh to knot the game at 2-2.
Renda led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk and then swiped his 12th bag of the year -- and first of two on the day -- on a swing-and-miss strikeout from Delfino, then moved to third on a fly ball to right center by Knapp. Krist drove the second pitch he saw into the left field gap for a ringing single to put the Bears up, 3-2.
Right-handed hitting senior Chad Bunting -- who entered the game in the fourth after starting righty Sean Hartnett was lifted for lefty reliever Nick LaRoy -- then scorched a liner off of LaRoy's right shoe for an infield single, and a walk to freshman shortstop Brenden Farney loaded the bases for Reuvekamp. The plucky utility infielder, though, foul-tipped a 1-2 curve into Slaybaugh's mitt for strike three, leaving the bases loaded yet again and continuing a stretch where the Bears left 20 men on base over the previous three games.
"That's what we've been doing, recently," Esquer said. "That's all we've been doing, was leaving guys on base and not getting them in. That was obviously, you didn't want it to happen again, just a continuation of the frustrations we've had the last weekend."
Oh -- sore ribs and all -- led off the bottom of the sixth with a first-pitch single off of LaRoy, and was followed by Bruno taking a dose in the right arm to put to men on for Renda, spelling the end for LaRoy. Righty Ty Jackson then came on to face the reigning conference player of the year, and promptly surrendered a 2-1 groundball single through the hole on the left side of the infield. Oh, chugging around third, was faced with yet another play at the plate.
"Tony sent me again, and he said, 'You've got to get going,' again, so I was like, 'Oh, this is a little déjà vu,'" Oh said. "Luckily, the catcher stood at home plate the whole time, so I was able to slide in. I stuck my hand in there and luckily, he didn't make contact."
With Muse-Fisher out of the game in favor of junior righty Logan Scott, Washington State came back with a vengeance. Scott hit Sagdal with his third pitch, and with senior righty Joey Donofrio warming in the pen, allowed a perfectly-placed bunt single up the third base line to Johnson to load the bases with no outs.
Scott used his change up to get Blackham swinging for the first out of the inning, but was lifted in favor of slider-artist Donofrio with the dangerous Ard at the plate. After looking at strike one on a fastball, Ard sent a rocket to right center for a double. With two runs in, Knapp fired to Renda, and Renda sent the relay throw in to Krist. The two-time All-Pac-10 catcher's tag was just a hair late, allowing the Cougars to take a 5-4 lead.
Donofrio then struck out Derek Jones and Tommy Richards with the slider to end the threat.
"The first one was location, the second one [Scott] hooked a change up and then he made a bad play on a bunt, so it was a little bit of everything, there," Esquer said. "He got that out, and then we went to Joey after. [Scott] has been better for us, and he will be."
While Cal failed to respond in nine out of 10 innings in which the Wildcats scored over the weekend, the Bears were not about to lie down yet again.
Krist led off the Cal seventh with a rocket single into left, and took second when a would-be sacrifice bunt from Bunting induced a wild throw to first from Jackson, putting men on first and second for pinch hitter Derek Campbell. Campbell sent a perfect bunt up third to move two men into scoring position for Reuvekamp, who grounded the first pitch he saw through Richards at second, plating two runs and reclaiming the lead against reliever Spencer Jackson.
"He had the big hits, and he also had the big contact to second base that they errored and that gave us the lead," Esquer said. "It was at least going to tie the game, and then they errored it for the lead."
Oh then sent a flyball single to shallow center and took second when the throw from Johnson to third skipped away from third baseman Patrick Claussen. Bruno scored Reuvekamp with a first-pitch squeeze bunt to put the Bears ahead by two. Renda continued the abuse of Spencer Jackson, cueing a single through the right side for an RBI single.
"I've had a few four-hit games here at Cal, so when I was 4-for-4, all of the guys were saying, 'We've seen you do that before; Can you go 5-for-5? No pressure,'" Oh said. "Then, when I hit that ball, everyone's yelling, 'That'll do it!' It was just meant to fall, and luckily, it fell."
Donofrio held the line, serving up a tailor-made 4-6-3 double play after a leadoff single by Claussen in the top of the eighth, and then fanning Slaybaugh on a diving slider low and in.
"It was big," Esquer said. "At that point, it was an all-league player (Ard) beating our best reliever, and that happens and we answer for him and help him out, there."
With Richie Ochoa on the bump in the bottom of the eighth, Knapp and Krist flied out. Again with their backs against the wall, the Bears responded. Bunting lofted a flyball double down the left field line, and Campbell took the second pitch he saw on his left thigh, setting the stage for Reuvekamp.
The sophomore transfer from Diablo Valley College sent a fly ball to right, and Jones gave chase into foul ground, laying out to try and make the play. The ball squirted off the tip of his mitt, though, giving Reuvekamp new life. After an 0-1 ball, Reuvekamp scorched a liner back up the middle, nearly taking a piece of Ochoa's face with it, for an RBI single.
Oh -- who had the chance to become just the fifth player in Cal history to record a six-hit game -- drew a five-pitch walk to load the bases for Bruno.
"I think at that time, late in the game, the score, we were sort of up by a lot of runs, and I think they were trying to pitch to me," Oh said. "I didn't think they were trying to pitch around me. 3-1, I thought he was going to give me a good pitch to hit. I should have check-swung or swung and missed on purpose to get a good pitch, but I'll take the walk."
Bruno quickly got down 0-2, but battled back to fill the count, fouling off three pitches before drawing a nine-pitch walk to score the Bears' 10th run of the day.
Renda came up with his third hit of the day with a 2-0 one-hopper through the left side for a run-scoring single. Jones bobbled the exchange in left, allowing another run to score, and a game which was a tight 5-4 affair heading into the seventh-inning stretch had become a 12-5 route. Delfino lined an 0-2 Ochoa offering into center over the outstretched glove of shortstop Sagdal for an RBI single to score the Bears' 13th run of the afternoon.
Sophomore righty Michael Lowden came on in relief of Donofrio, and was shaky from the start, allowing a leadoff single to Sagdal and then hitting Johnson to put two men on with no outs. Blackham sent a slicing liner to left under Oh's glove to score two, and after an infield pop-up from Ard, Jones delivered a flyball single to right for an RBI single. Lowden then tightened up, catching Richards looking at strike three and then getting a sinking liner to Renda from Claussen to finish things off.
After taking two of three from the Cougars two weekends ago, the Bears have now won three of four from Washington State, and after playing, as Renda described, their best baseball up in Pullman during the two weekend wins, Cal got back into the swing of things on Monday.
"It's like last year, when we went to the regional at Rice, it was like, 'Well, we already beat Rice this year, and they're probably the best team in that regional and they're a [national] No. 8-seed. We already beat them. We can beat them again. If we can beat them, we can beat anybody else in that regional,'" Renda said. "Coming out today, we took two out of three from these guys, so let's do it again. It definitely helps getting things rolling against a team we've already beat."
Playing the day after a home sweep at the hands of the Wildcats went a long way toward getting the bad taste out of the Bears' mouths, and they'll need all the sweet tastes they can get as they approach the home stretch with a playoff berth on the line.
"It can be that way, psychologically," Esquer said. "You get into that mode where you just don't know how to find a win, and that can get contagious as much as winning and hitting well. It'll be good to go into practice tomorrow with a better taste in our mouth."
Cal will now face what can only be described as a gauntlet to finish out the season, hosting three games with No. 11 UCLA before heading to Palo Alto for a three-game set with No. 12 Stanford to finish off the regular season. After tallying just 14 hits and six runs over the weekend, the offensive explosion against the Cougars bodes well for Cal's chances to make the home stretch interesting. The Bears now have four days to let this performance sit and remind them just how winning feels.
"It's tough not playing weekday games, when you're kind of working stuff out and trying to get your timing and trying to get live ABs," Renda said. "It's tough not playing weekday games, while trying to find that. Having this game today, coming off a bad weekend for everybody, really, with the exception of yesterday, we only had eight hits. I think we got eight hits yesterday, too. We came out and played with good defense today, too, and we've been playing good defense. It's all starting to come together. Hopefully, not too late."