OMAHA, Neb. — After a solo shot by Texas A&M’s Adam Smith broke a scoreless deadlock in the fourth inning, Cal baseball coach David Esquer brought his starters in for a pep talk.
“I told them basically, ‘I’ll take bad contact to the middle of the diamond than you trying to make something good happen up against the fence,’” Esquer said. “Let’s act like we belong here.”
Considering the Bears only seem to be able to win when everything is on the line, maybe next time Esquer should also tell them that a tornado is coming, the building’s on fire and Timmy’s stuck in a well.
Facing elimination from the College World Series, Cal scored three in the fifth, three in the sixth and once for insurance in the seventh to defeat the Aggies 7-3 on Tuesday at TD Ameritrade Park. The win, the Bears’ first in the CWS since 1980, advances them to the Thursday evening game against Virginia, a team the Bears lost to 4-1 on Sunday.
“We’re not here to just be here,” designated hitter Tony Renda said. “We’re here to win some ballgames.”
With a freshman on the mound, they did just that. Pitching in his second elimination game of the tournament (his first was against Baylor on June 5), Kyle Porter showed off his playoff poise yet again. The lanky lefty, whose baggy yellow jersey and skinny limbs reminded everyone that he was barely 19, retired 11 of his first 13 batters.
“That was the storyline of the game: handing him the ball and letting him run with it,” said, Esquer, who was named National Coach of the Year earlier in the day. “We have tremendous confidence in Kyle. Every time we’ve used him the whole year is when the game mattered most.”
Porter’s 14th batter, the third baseman Smith, took a 1-0 offering deep to left field for the first run of the game. Unfazed, Porter got catcher Kevin Gonzalez to pop out, ending the inning.
“I knew with the offense that I had behind me, that one run wasn’t going to win the game,” Porter said.
He was right.
Fresh off Esquer’s pep talk at the start of the fifth inning, the hits started coming against Aggie starter Michael Wacha. Leading off the inning, right fielder Chad Bunting found himself safe at second thanks to a bobbled, then airmailed, throw by Smith at third. The next batter, center fielder Darrel Matthews, looped a single over short to put runners on the corners.
Then, Cal’s hero with a lucky bleached blonde mullet stepped to the plate. Second baseman Derek Campbell, who has taken over field duties due to Renda’s strained quad, pounded Wacha for a single to the gap in right center. Center fielder Krey Bratsen let the ball escape behind him, enabling Bunting and Matthews to score, and giving Cal a 2-1 lead.
But the fun didn’t end there for the Bears, who have found all season that they play best when they play loose. Left fielder Austin Booker bunted Campbell over to third, bringing Renda to the dish. Renda got under the first pitch, skying it to shallow right.
He turned and saw Campbell dance off third base.
“I don’t like to think too much, because when I think too much that doesn’t work well with me,” Campbell said. “So I kind of play it simple.”
Right fielder Tyler Naquin hurdled the ball over the head of his catcher, and Campbell scored with a slide to put the Bears up 3-1. On the day, the bottom half of Cal’s lineup accounted for seven of the Bears’ nine hits, with most of them coming on pitchers’ counts.
Two days after scoring just one run against Virginia, it was a welcome change.
With the win, Texas A&M was eliminated while Cal earned at least one more game at the College World Series. And, with each day that passes, the Bears also earn more fans to cheer them on as they extend their storybook season.
“Hop on. Come along for the ride,” Renda said. “Sounds great to us.”
Katie Dowd covers baseball.