Going into this season, the bullpen was the Cal baseball team’s biggest question mark. The Bears’ shockingly abysmal defense, which leads the league in errors, deflected attention away from Cal’s relievers during the squad’s recent struggles, but that preseason question reared its ugly head on Sunday.
The thin bullpen fell apart in the bottom of the sixth, turning a three-run lead into a two-run deficit en route to No. 14 Arizona State’s series-winning 9-6 victory. It took four different relievers to make it through the frame at Packard Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
Freshman Keaton Siomkin struggled through a bases-loaded jam in the previous inning, and his woes continued in the sixth. Siomkin opened the sixth with a walk, but followed it up with a strikeout. The Cal (13-9, 1-5 in the Pac-12) coaching staff decided not to take any more chances on the shaky freshman after a single put runners on first and second.
Surprisingly, coach David Esquer turned to weekday starter Michael Theofanopoulos, who loaded the bases by hitting the first batter he faced. Center fielder Andrew Aplin raked an RBI single to end Theofanopoulos’ day.
The bleeding continued when the usually steady senior Joey Donofrio entered the game. Shortstop Deven Marrero slapped a payoff pitch from Donofrio into right field to score two, and a rare error by right fielder Danny Oh cost the Bears yet another run to give the Sun Devils a 7-6 lead. Two walks and no outs later, Donofrio had the bases loaded.
In came sophomore Michael Lowden, who gave up the fifth run of the inning on a sacrifice fly, but managed to get out of the inning with a flyout. Arizona State (15-8, 3-3) got its last run of the game when Joey DeMichele launched a solo shot off reliever Matt Evanoff in the eighth.
Prior to Cal’s horrendous sixth inning, the Bears’ resurging offense had been the story of the game. Cal combined for four runs over the first two games of the serie, but plated six on 10 hits within the first six innings of Sunday’s game.
Second baseman Tony Renda led the charge, hitting in the three-spot all weekend instead of leading off as he has done most of the season. Renda slapped a double into left center in his first at bat and came around to score in Cal’s two-run first inning. The Hillsborough, Calif., native hit his second home run of the year in the fifth inning to tie the game at three.
The Cal offense went off in the top half of the sixth inning with a three-run tear. Shortstop Chris Paul, starting in place of struggling Derek Campbell, notched an RBI double to score Chad Bunting and touched home after a single by designated hitter Vince Bruno. A single by third baseman Mitch Delfino brought Bruno around to give Cal a comfortable 6-3 lead.
After Arizona State went on its scoring spree in the bottom of the sixth, the Bears managed just one hit the rest of the game. Renda singled in the ninth to finish the day 3-for-5, but catcher Chadd Krist ended the game with a ground out.