Story originally appeared in the Daily Californian on March 9, 2014.
If football is a game of inches, then baseball is a game of pitches. And, over the weekend at the Cal Baseball Classic, the four games the Bears played came down to five pitches.
Against Tulane (9-5) on Friday, freshman starter Daulton Jefferies was one pitch away from ending the fifth inning but instead gave up a single, right through the gap between first and second base. The Bears (10-5) went into the top of the fifth leading 5-0 and came out of the inning trailing 7-5. They would go on to lose 10-5.
Against USF (8-6) on Saturday, freshman pitcher Alex Martinez gave up a bomb over the right field fence that put USF up 1-0 in the top of the sixth. The Bears had a great chance in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and redshirt senior Devon Rodriguez at the plate, but Rodriguez tried to pull an outside pitch and grounded into a double play, ending the inning. The final score was 1-0.
Against Arkansas (8-5) in the first game of a doubleheader Sunday, Rodriguez drew a walk with the bases loaded to send a run home. If the ball were in the strike zone, maybe Rodriguez would have swung and grounded out. Instead, the Bears won that game 4-3.
In the second game of the doubleheader, junior Brenden Farney had a leadoff double and would eventually score on a sacrifice fly to right field by senior Mike Reuvekamp. If the pitch to Reuvekamp were low and away instead, it could have been a ground ball. Maybe then the Bears wouldn’t have put the first run on the board and have won, 2-1.
Cal head coach David Esquer has said all season that games depend upon who wins the “baseball spot” — his term for the big moment in a game that can change the final outcome.
“It comes down to who’s going to win those moments,” Esquer said. “It’s as simple as that. We’ve got to win those moments more often.”
Despite the two losses over the weekend, the Bears did have good pitching from their starters and their bullpen, both of which have been strengths for the team this season.
Esquer said Jefferies’ loss — his first of the season — was a managerial loss. Esquer was trying to establish pitchers who could make it past the fifth inning, so he left Jefferies in a tough spot before finally pulling him after most of the damage had already been done.
“I cut off my nose to spite my face,” Esquer said.
Senior Kyle Porter pitched a solid 5.2 innings, giving up one run on four hits, and junior Michael Theofanopoulos had to pitch out of the stretch a couple of times but had great control over his off-speed pitches. The bullpen pitching this season has also been fantastic.
On top of the good pitching, bats in different parts of the lineup have started going. Junior Chris Paul, who batted sixth in all four games, has been working on widening his stance, selecting pitches more carefully and being more aggressive. He had two multihit games over the weekend. Sophomore Devin Pearson, the leadoff hitter, went 6-11.
“You’ve got to say you’re going to beat that guy every time you’re hitting,” Pearson said. “Even if you’re going bad, you’ve got to tell yourself you’re going good. It’s all a mental game.”
Paul said Esquer “kind of got into (the team) last night” but felt they deserved it because the Bears lost to two teams they should have beaten. Against Arkansas, Paul thought the team played harder and more as a team and was happy to come out on top in a close game.
“One-run games are the hardest games to win,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in it until the very last pitch.”
Despite all the intensity, the games did offer a few comical moments. Senior Derek Campbell walked out to the plate to the Katy Perry tune “Dark Horse,” which led to one boy telling his father, “Dad, that’s a girl song.”
And, after some Arkansas fans in the second game of the doubleheader were getting excited as a ball headed to left field, Martinez, who was in the stands because he had pitched the day before, yelled: “We. Have. A. Guy. Right. There.” He was right, and the ball landed in the glove of senior Vince Bruno.