Here’s what the box score will tell you about the bottom half of the first inning of Cal’s 13-8 win over Washington State on Monday: senior Danny Oh led off the game with a single to left field, advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on a Mitch Delfino single to center field. After the play, Washington State catcher P.J. Jones was replaced by Collin Slaybaugh.
But the box score won’t tell you about Oh’s run-in with Jones.
As Oh rounded third base after Delfino’s knock, center fielder Kyle Johnson fired the ball in to Jones, but the throw tailed off about 10 feet up the third-base line. The 180-pound catcher crouched over the line in anticipation, his eyes trained on the ball rather than the 196-pound left fielder barreling in on him. But the ball never had the chance to reach Jones.
“I tried going on the inside and the throw led the catcher outside,” Oh said. “That’s when I knew I had to brace for an impact.”
Oh collided with Jones at full speed, sending the catcher flying backwards into the dust and knocking the wind out of Oh. The senior gingerly crawled through the haze of dust and chalk for several seconds, navigating around an unmoving Jones before wearily tapping home plate for Cal’s first run of the game.
Whereas Jones walked off with his team’s medical staff after laying on the ground for several minutes, Oh went on to have the best offensive day of his career, going 5-for-5 with four runs and an RBI on a wild afternoon at Evans Diamond.
“A kid gets up off the ground like that and has the day he had there, that’s a little toughness there,” said Cal coach David Esquer.
Oh nabbed his second and third hits of the day in the second and fourth innings, finding holes on the both the right and left sides of the infield.
But Oh’s deja vu moment came in the sixth.
After singling for his fourth hit of the day, Oh advanced to second when Vince Bruno was hit by a pitch. After Tony Renda singled through the left side, Oh was waved home again. Left fielder Adam Nelubowich’s throw was on target this time, and Slaybaugh partially blocked home plate. But Oh craftily slid in on his left flank, dropping his left hand on home plate just ahead of the tag to give Cal a 4-2 lead.
“(Renda) was saying ‘You gotta get going again,’ and so I was like ‘Oh, this is a little deja vu,'” Oh said. “Luckily I was just able to slide in.”
An already wild game grew even wilder in the final three innings. Cal starter Chris Muse-Fisher gave up just two runs in six innings of work, but Cal’s bullpen blew his quality start. Logan Scott loaded the bases in the seventh while recording just one out, and Joey Donofrio surrendered a bases-clearing double that gave the Cougars (24-24) a 5-4 lead at the seventh inning stretch.
The Bears (26-22) proceeded to not just eliminate that deficit, but blow the game wide open.
Cal added two runs on a Chadd Krist single and a trio of Washington State errors. Oh recorded his career-high fifth hit of the afternoon on a bloop single to left, knocking in Mike Reuvekamp and advancing to second on an error.
“When I go 4-for-4 all the guys are like ‘Can you go 5-for-5?'” Oh said. “No pressure. And then when I hit that ball everyone was yelling ‘That’ll do it!'”
“It was just meant to fall.”
The Bears added two more runs in the seventh to extend their lead to 8-5, and blew the game open with five tack-on runs in the eighth. With a run already in, Oh took four balls as Washington State’s Richie Ochoa appeared to pitch around Oh rather than risk giving up Oh’s school record-tying sixth hit. Only four other Cal players have recorded six hits in a game.
“I don’t think they were trying to pitch around me,” Oh said. “(In a 3-1 count) I thought I was going to get a good pitch to hit. But I should’ve check-swung or swung and missed so I’d get another pitch to hit — on purpose, to get another pitch.”
The win snaps Cal’s three-game losing streak and numbs the sting of being swept by Arizona this weekend. The win does not count as a conference game, but the Bears will urgently need more wins like this if they want any shot of advancing to the postseason. The Bears will close the regular season with two series against the Pac-12’s best, starting with No. 11 UCLA this weekend.
“Psychologically you get in that mode where you just don’t know how to find a win,” Esquer said. “And that can get contagious as much as winning and hitting well does.”
“It’ll be good to go into practice tomorrow with a little different taste in our mouth.