There is something violent about a dominating strikeout, and Oregon junior starting pitcher David Peterson made it clear from the very beginning that the Cal baseball team was in for a beating. Peterson had struck out a jaw-dropping 40 batters in only 25.1 innings pitched this season, and he wasted no time in adding to that plentiful total Friday night against an overmatched Bears squad in what was ultimately a 7-1 win for the Ducks.
This season, Cal’s lineup of young hitters has been neither patient at the plate nor strikeout resistant, so Peterson was particularly bad matchup. Sophomore Jonah Davis led off for the Bears, falling behind on a fastball and striking out looking. Fellow sophomore Jeffrey Mitchell Jr. was up second and fared no better, walking back to the dugout after getting rung up looking. The Bears were in for a long night.
A few Cal hitters, such as the streaking Andrew Vaughn, did a nice job of choking up on the bat and poking balls for hits. But Peterson’s fastball, which carries plenty of energy with his over the top delivery from a 6-foot-6 frame, was simply too good for most Bears to keep up with. Most are too young to have never seen anything like it. Whenever he was in a jam, Peterson had no trouble getting a needed and timely whiff. He didn’t quite match his previous season average of 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings, but he still struck out at least one Bear in every inning except for the third, ending with eight K’s over six innings pitched.
Sophomore Tanner Dodson was on the bump for the Bears, and although he did an admirable job, Oregon was simply a more experienced, battle-tested team than he had faced this season. By the third inning they started to figure him out. With runners on second and third after two singles and a bunt, Oregon redshirt senior Jake Bennett hit a fly to center field, hoping to score the runner from third.
Davis made an excellent hard throw to home, but it took a high bounce off the pitcher’s mound, allowing the Ducks just enough time to score the first run of the game. Dodson then allowed a scorching grounder to third that junior Denis Karas couldn’t handle, allowing two more runs to score as the ball dribbled into left field.
Two more runs came around for the Ducks in the fifth inning, the first on another sacrifice fly, and the second on a weak shot to shallow left field. After walking two batters in the top of the sixth, Cal head coach David Esquer made the call to the bullpen, bringing in freshman Jack Wolger to get out of the jam. Dodson ended with an ugly line of 5.1 innings pitched and five earned runs. It would, however, be hard to make the case that he was pitching very differently than he had been the whole season — he just ran into a better team.
“Not the Friday night outings that you’re going to need,” Esquer said. “You need someone to match up and lock horns with another Friday night. (Dodson) has been giving (opponents) a little too much.”
Wolger looked confident for a freshman coming in against a clearly superior team and pitched like someone beyond his years. Despite a wild pitch that moved his inherited runners to second and third base, he worked out of the jam and forced a groundout to end the inning before going through the seventh and eighth inning without allowing a hit.
He was hit hard in the top of the ninth inning, allowing two solo home runs before being taken out, but his work in the previous three innings was impressive nonetheless.
Turning to their bullpen, each Duck had a fastball livelier than the last. But Oregon freshman Jack Cosca, despite hitting 96 miles per hour, was utterly wild in the eighth inning and loaded the bases with no outs before being taken out.
A run scored on a grounder by junior Matt Ruff, but another was squandered when freshman Max Flower made an ill-advised dash for home on a grounder that the pitcher bobbled, and Flower was out by a mile. Davis followed that up with his third strikeout in a miserable night at the ballpark, as the Bears scored just one run after loading the bases with no outs.
“Bases loaded, nobody out, you get more than one (good hit). If it’s 5-2 going into the ninth (inning), you’re a runner or two away from some being really nervous,” Esquer said.
That was all she wrote, as Cal was retired easily in the bottom of the ninth. Cal has shown a remarkable ability to battle back from ugly wins this season, but this is still a brutal loss against a clearly better team. The Bears will need to find another gear if they want to compete in the rest of the Pac-12 portion of their schedule.