Coach David Esquer probably feels like he’s playing whack-a-mole with all of the issues that keep popping up with his Cal baseball team.
When the starting pitching struggled, Esquer yanked out his opening day rotation and stuck in underclassmen. The new starters pitched better, but the hitters began to slump.
In the series against Arizona, it was the bullpen that haunted the slumping Bears squad. Cal dropped the final game of the series 5-4 Sunday afternoon in Tucson at Hi Corbett Field.
After getting blown out on Friday and dropping a close game on Saturday, Cal (16-16, 5-8 Pac-12) handed the ball to sophomore Keaton Siomkin to make his third start of the season.
Siomkin carried a 2.28 ERA into the contest, but that sparkling figure was immediately in jeopardy in his first inning pitching to the defending national-champion Wildcats (21-11, 6-6 Pac-12). After inducing an infield pop-up to Arizona’s leadoff hitter, Siomkin worked himself into a quick jam by allowing two singles. Second baseman Brendan Farney and shortstop Chris Paul combined to turn a nifty double play in the next at-bat to extinguish the rally.
Siomkin’s luck ran out in the bottom of the second, allowing three consecutive hits after retiring the first two hitters of the inning with ease. The third single, a shot up the middle, brought home Arizona first baseman Ryan Koziel for the first run of the game. After facing just 11 batters and pitching two innings, Siomkin was pulled from the game.
Meanwhile, Arizona starter Tyler Crawford cruised along, muting the Bears’ offense. The left-hander yielded just two hits through the first four frames.
Crawford ran into trouble in the fifth against the top of the Cal lineup. With one out, leadoff hitter Devin Pearson lashed a double to left field. Crawford, under duress, threw a pitch wide of his catcher. Pearson scampered down to third, and the Bears had their best chance at scoring all day. Farney knocked in Pearson in the ensuing at-bat, slicing the Wlidcats’ lead to a run. After an opposite-field Rodriguez single, Crawford was replaced by Tyger Talley. A Jacob Wark fielder’s choice tied the game at 2.
But the Bears’ bullpen couldn’t keep the game within reach. Arizona tacked on a run in each of the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings to extend their lead to three runs.
A glimmer of hope emerged in Cal’s final chance to top the Wildcats. The Bears loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the ninth, threatening to mount an incredible comeback. Farney lined a single to left to drive in one run. Down two runs and with slugger Devon Rodriguez at the plate with no outs, a comeback looked more than possible.
But Rodriguez bounced into a double play, scoring a run but bringing Cal within an out of a loss. With Pearson on third and Andrew Knapp at the plate with a chance to tie the game, Knapp slapped a weak grounder to the first baseman, the series ending with a whimper.