Cal’s junior first baseman and cleanup hitter stepped up to the plate with two outs and a runner on third with the score tied 4-4 in the seventh inning in Salt Lake City Sunday afternoon.
Etched in Bears baseball lore for his heroics in the 2011 College World Series and coming off a four-RBI performance the day before, Rodriguez worked the count against Utah reliever Josh Chapman and patiently ripped a single to left field to give the Bears a lead they would not relinquish.
Cal tacked on an insurance run in the ninth to bring the score to 6-4 and complete the weekend sweep.
“We rely on him to drive in runs,” Cal coach David Esquer said of Rodriguez. “But he also makes plays that don’t show up on the scoreboard.”
Leadoff hitter Devin Pearson led the offensive attack for the Bears, going 3-for-4 with an RBI. Logan Scott picked up the win in relief, tossing a scoreless inning and two-thirds and striking out one.
The Bears were riding a seven-game winning streak and a game away from sweeping conference foe Utah.
But starter Colin Monsour was chased after allowing two runs in the first inning, and the Utes smacked three consecutive extra base-hits off of long reliever Ryan Wertenburger in the second. Faced with a 4-0 deficit after just two innings, the Bears felt their streak and their spotless conference record slipping away.
Cal responded in the third with a three-run rally, capped by a bases-loaded two-RBI single from right-fielder Jacob Wark. With Wark on first, catcher Andrew Knapp on second and third baseman Chris Paul at the dish, Cal looked poised to swing the score in their favor. But an ambitious attempt by Knapp to steal third was thwarted, and the potential momentum-swinging rally was quashed.
Both teams remained scoreless until the top of the sixth inning, thanks to strong middle relief by both Pac-12 squads. Utah’s Dylan Caroll recovered nicely after his mishap in the third, inducing double-plays and popouts against the heart of the Cal lineup.
Left-hander Chris Muse-Fisher continued to bounce back from a terrible start to the season, tossing one and a third scoreless and allowing just one hit.
“The bullpen is the strength of our team,” Esquer said.
“The starting pitching is a work in progress and still hasn’t got in a good rhythm. There’s been a lot of pressure on our bullpen, but they’re responding.”
The Bears were the recipients of a lucky break in the top of the sixth. Knapp grounded out to second base to start the inning, and Wark appeared to follow suit after swinging at a third strike in the dirt.
But the ball squirted past Utes catcher AJ Young, and Wark was able to reach first on the wild pitch by Carroll. With Wark on first and one out, Paul pounded a pitch into the right-center gap for an RBI triple, knotting the score at 4.
After facing San Jose State on Wednesday, Cal continues its Pac-12 slate with a three-game series against UCLA in Los Angeles next weekend.