Another road series, another series loss for Cal baseball. The Bears will head back from Washington with a 1-2 record on the weekend, and although this is far from their worst work away from home this season, it’s a win they could have used in a close Pac-12 leaderboard.
Freshman Jared Horn started game one still looking to prove he could be a legitimate Friday night ace. He was excellent through most of the game, allowing just two runs in his first seven innings. But Cal head coach David Esquer’s decision to ride with Horn, who had never pitched past the seventh inning before, rather than turn to the bullpen backfired, and the Huskies put up three runs in the bottom of the eighth, two of which were credited to Horn.
“In order to develop as a player we felt like we had to leave (Horn) in the fire,” Esquer said. “In developing him, this is going to be part of the process. Coming in and out of trouble and building up to go deeper in games.”
Cal put together 10 hits but strung them together poorly, scoring just two runs in the 5-2 loss.
“It really just comes down to hits with runners in scoring position,” Esquer said. “We’ve done a decent job of that, obviously I think we struggle at that a little bit more on the road than we do at home.”
Sophomore Joey Matulovich was on the mound for game two and put together a characteristically solid outing in his short time. He allowed just one run over 4.1 innings, but after game one, Esquer was quick to turn to the bullpen when Matulovich got into a jam in the fifth inning.
Erik Martinez, a midseason candidate for the NCBWA Stopper of the Year award, was excellent in shutting down the Huskies to get the Bears a win. He came into the game with the bases loaded and just one out on the board, and limited the damage to one run, which came on a wild pitch. He went for 4.2 innings in all, recording four strikeouts and getting the win. Esquer has generally used him in typical closer fashion, but Martinez showed just how valuable he can be in this sort of fireman roll. The Bears’ lineup did their best work of the series to get the 7-3 win to even the series.
Just looking at the box score, freshman Andrew Vaughn didn’t have his biggest series of the season. But that doesn’t reveal the terror he’s putting into pitchers. His ridiculous .355/.435/.608 slash line has only gotten better since the start of the Pac-12 portion of Cal’s schedule, and pitchers are understandably hesitant to give him anything worth swinging at. In the second game of the series Vaughn didn’t get a hit but was intentionally walked three times and scored two runs, instrumental in what turned out to be Cal’s sole win.
“We haven’t had a guy like (Vaughn), who commands such attention,” Esquer said. “But he definitely has the attention of the opponent pitching coaches. Basically what they say is, they’re not willing to let him beat them. So they’ll put him on base and leave it up to the rest of our lineup. They’re going to have to come through.”
Holding Washington to four runs in game three should have been enough for the Bears’ high-power offense to win the rubber match and take the series, but Cal couldn’t break out of its offensive rut, scoring just one run. The Bears have now averaged three runs over the past four game, more than two runs less than their season average. That one run came unearned on a passed ball rather than a hit, a rare occurrence for a Washington defense that gives up the fewest unearned runs in the nation and has the second best fielding percentage.
In the seventh inning, Vaughn came up with runners on the corners and two outs. The Huskies went to the bullpen to make sure they had a fresh arm to take on the Bears’ slugger and the decision worked; Vaughn popped out to end the Bears’ best chance at taking the game. The game, and series, was effectively over. Final score 4-1.
Cal is under .500 overall, but its 12-9 inter-conference record is good for third in the Pac-12 standings. The Bears’ ability to play well at home is unquestioned, but to show they’re deserving of that high placement, they’ll need to show it can win away from Evans Diamond. This weekend was close, but no cigar.