Bears washed away in Big Series loss

Cal ends regular season by losing five of last six conference games

Cal second baseman Tony Renda dives for third base after running from first on a single. He was thrown out to end the third inning.
Eugene Lau/Staff
Cal second baseman Tony Renda dives for third base after running from first on a single. He was thrown out to end the third inning.

Save Cal Baseball banners were still around to help close out Evans Diamond’s final showing this spring, the annual Big Series against Stanford. Some fliers were stacked at the front desk, and T-shirts still popped up in the season-high crowd of 1,358 — even if the Bears’ reinstatement was already secured nearly two months ago.

But with the way the Cal baseball team was playing, it looked desperate for some help. Saturday afternoon, the rain erased a contest that could have capped a three-game Cardinal sweep.

“(Having) no game is better than a loss,” second baseman Tony Renda said. “I always want to play, but it was bad conditions.”

The Bears lost the first part of the doubleheader, 4-2, and they only looked worse in the second. Cal spiraled down to a 7-1 hole in the top of the fourth, the day’s intermittent drizzle steadied into an unrelenting shower. Pitcher Kevin Miller had started to lose his footing on the mound, walking three straight to add to his season total of 12.

If Stanford students didn’t have finals approaching, they would have resumed play on Sunday. The same might have happened if the game affected Pac-10 standings. Neither was true, so box scores will be filed into as if those final four innings never existed.

The regular season finale was a familiar refrain for Cal, wasted opportunities dotting the innings with absurd regularity. After leaving 10 runners on base in their series-opening, 3-2 loss on Friday, the Bears (31-20, 13-13 in the Pac-10) stranded another eight in Saturday’s noon game.

“You’ve got to win the big spot,” Cal coach David Esquer said. “You’ve got to come up with the big at-bat, you’ve got to get the big hit and they did that over and over. We continually didn’t do it over and over.”

Stanford (32-20, 14-12) committed three costly errors, and often looked as if it were trying to give the game away — to which Cal responded politely, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The Cardinal gifted the Bears their first run Saturday, committing two straight errors to open the second inning and put runners on first and second. A sac bunt moved them to second and third, and Stanford pitcher Jordan Pries hit third baseman Mitch Delfino to load the bases with one out.

Cal couldn’t manage a hit, scoring a run on a fielder’s choice before grounding out. The next inning, Renda streaked from first to third base with two outs, hoping to jump start his team; Stanford right fielder Austin Wilson cut him down with a perfect throw.

Renda came up to bat again in the fifth with two outs, runners on first and second. A pitch slid in the dirt, but shortstop Marcus Semien broke late from first on a failed double steal.

The Bears didn’t score again until the seventh — on another Cardinal error.

“It was almost comical at some point,” Esquer said.

Sophomore Justin Jones (7-6, 3.33 ERA) looked shaky to start the game in his up-and-down season, surrendering 12 hits and five runs before finding a groove to retire 10 of his last 12 batters.

The second game was disastrous. Junior Dixon Anderson, who has struggled in recent starts, gave up five hits in the first three innings to help spot Stanford a 3-0 lead. Miller gave up four more runs before the rain cleansed his ERA.

Monday morning, the Bears caught a break. Despite going 6-7 down the Pac-10 stretch and falling to sixth place, Cal received a favorable postseason draw — the Houston Regional hosted by overall No. 8-seed Rice. The Bears defeated the Owls, 7-6, in 15 innings in March. Cal opens regional play against Baylor Friday at noon.

“We’re gonna come out with some fire in this regional,” Renda said. “I’m sure of it.”

Jack Wang covers baseball.