BERKELEY -- The already-slim playoff hopes of the California baseball team took yet another big blow on Friday, as Bears ace Matt Flemer turned in his worst start in an otherwise spectacular senior season, allowing seven runs -- six earned -- on 11 hits as Cal fell 7-2 to No. 11 UCLA.
"He wasn't sharp, but he hasn't been sharp before," said Bears head coach David Esquer. "We just didn't make good plays. They play him for one run and we set the inning up where they can get four or five. On Friday, hey, when he's beyond the point of no return, he's not going to come back for us. He could save our pen by pitching throwing 100 pitches, and that's what the Friday guy's supposed to do. Sometimes you've got to wear him because you got to throw your 100 pitches and save our pen for a game you possibly can win, especially when the game's out of hand."
After Cal (26-23, 9-16 in Pac-12) pressured Bruins starter Adam Plutko in the bottom of the first, putting two men on with one out, normally-clutch first baseman Mitch Delfino struck out on five pitches, before sophomore right fielder Andrew Knapp sent a 1-1 flare into left for a would-be run-scoring single. UCLA left fielder Cody Keefer, though, snuffed out the nascent rally, diving and rolling to make the catch.
Flemer then surrendered a leadoff single to catcher Trevor Brown -- playing for injured All-American candidate Tyler Heineman -- to set the stage for second baseman Shane Zeile. Zeile dropped a bunt up the third base line, where third baseman Derek Campbell over-ran the ball for an infield single. A sacrifice bunt back to the mound by Chris Keck put two men in scoring position for first baseman Cody Regis, who obliged by crushing a hanging curve into right center field and all the way to the wall for a two-run triple.
"I'm feeling fine. I feel like I made some good pitches. They're a pretty highly ranked team, and they just took advantage of a couple mistakes," Flemer said. "Regis hit that ball in the gap that set the tone for them, and Brown kind of had my number the whole day. But other than that, I felt like a lot of balls just found some holes -- a couple balls fall in front of guys, one happens to get over someone's head, we misplay a couple bunts. It's just one of those things where they see enough of your pitches where you feel like you have to make perfect ones and when you feel like you have to make perfect ones, it doesn't really work out all the best for you. It's just one of those things where they put me in a tough position. They're aggressive. They get a guy on base, they bunt him over. They were still bunting in the seventh inning. It's kind of one of those things where they're going to get as many as they can off you and kick you while you're down. It was just one of those days."
Flemer's struggles didn't end there. After getting ahead of third baseman Kevin Kramer 2-2, the freshman out of Turlock (Calif.) sent a chopper through a drawn-in infield and over the head of freshman shortstop Brenden Farney to make it 3-0 UCLA.
With Kramer breaking for second and Farney moving over to cover the bag, shortstop Kevin Williams punched a single through the vacated left side of the infield. Center fielder Beau Amaral -- who struck out against Flemer to lead off the game -- flared the first pitch he saw into shallow left center, just out of the reach of a diving Farney. An errant throw to the plate by left fielder Danny Oh pulled catcher Chadd Krist up the line, an error that allowed a run to score and runners to advance to second and third. Cal would go on to commit three more errors on the day.
After Keefer fouled the first pitch he saw off of Krist, he sent a chopper through the right side for an RBI groundout, putting the Bruins up 5-0.
"You just can't play that sloppy and beat a Regional team," Esquer said. "Just can't do that. Unfortunately we played that way behind our best pitcher and a pitcher that's pitched his heart and soul for us all year. We played lousy.
Krist -- who went 2-for-4 on the day -- led off the next frame with a single, but Plutko got center fielder Darrell Matthews to pop out to third and Farney to fly out weakly to Keefer, before striking Campbell out looking on a breaker at the knees.
In the top of the third, Flemer allowed two straight singles to Trevor Brown and Zeile, before uncorking a run-scoring wild pitch to Keck, who then delivered a sacrifice fly to put the Bruins up 7-0.
Cal loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a single from Oh, an error by Zeile and a walk to second baseman Tony Renda, finally chasing Plutko, but Delfino grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play off of reliever David Berg to end the threat.
The Bears made things interesting again in the bottom of the ninth off of reliever Ryan Brewer. Pinch hitter Jacob Wark singled to center, and was followed by a Michael Theofanopoulos base knock to left center, moving Wark to third. Brewer was then lifted for Ryan Deeter, who surrendered an RBI single to center from Oh. After going 5-for-5 on Monday, Oh went 2-for-3 from the leadoff spot on Friday to continue his hot hitting.
"I think our guys got a chance to just relax and play," Esquer said. "They played tight. Maybe the idea of thinking they have win every game is kind of wearing on 'them, and that's unfortunate because it's really almost as bad as you can play early on."
After junior designated hitter Vince Bruno reached on an error to load the bases, Renda struck out looking. Delfino finally came through with runners in scoring position, sending a sacrifice fly out to left to plate the Bears' second run of the game, but the comeback was short-lived. After a passed ball moved Oh to third, Knapp struck out to end the game.
"Seven's a pretty big mountain to climb, so you're waiting for something to kind of happen," Esquer said. "A couple of bases-loaded opportunities, yeah, you could run into an inning. We're still trying. We're still trying to hold them to zero and trying to score, but you put yourself behind the eight-ball like that against a good team, something crazy's going to have to happen."