The Cal men’s baseball team came into this weekend’s four game series against No. 11 Texas Tech on a high after opening the season with a 2-1 series win over Cal Poly. After getting two straight big wins against the Mustangs at home, it seemed that maybe this team, which has turned over an entirely new starting lineup, could overcome its inexperience and put together a solid season.
After losing all four games by a combined 16 runs, it’s safe to say the Red Raiders popped the Bears early-season bubble.
That 16-run total, however, doesn’t tell the full story of the series. In a particularly cruel sequence, Cal lost two games by two, four and one run, before a nine-run blowout in the series finale. The cruelty comes in because although one close loss can be chalked up to bad luck, three in a row can start to feel like there’s more to it, and a near double-digit blowout finale seems to confirm that feeling.
“We played a team at the highest level of college baseball and hung in there with them,” said Cal head coach David Esquer. “Not that there’s moral victories. A big difference was just our ability to get hits with runners in scoring position. That’s kind of the story of the weekend. We’re just not mature enough to come along and lean into those at-bats.”
In the first game, sophomore Tanner Dodson, who pulled double duty as the designated hitter in the Cal Poly series, started on the mound for the Bears, getting through seven innings having allowed only one run. With the score tied at 1-1, Dodson went back out for the eighth inning, and that’s where things fell apart. He issued two walks to start the inning before being taken out, and the bullpen couldn’t stop the inherited runners from scoring, eventually letting up three runs in the inning. Cal battled back part of the way in the top of the ninth, but couldn’t close the gap, losing by a final score of 4-2.
In the first game of a Saturday doubleheader, freshman pitcher Jared Horn posted an almost identical line as his collegiate debut against Cal Poly a week prior, three earned runs over a little less than six innings pitched. It wasn’t a bad performance, striking out three and walking only one, but the Bears were shutout until the seventh inning, by which point they were already down five runs. A solitary run came by way of a RBI double by Dodson, who was once again put in the DH spot.
Game three was the most painful of all for the Bears, an extra-innings affair that saw Cal score a game-tying run in the top of the ninth via incredibly rare and comical back-to-back balks by the Red Raiders pitcher. But that bizarre stroke of luck didn’t signal further miracles for the Bears, as closer Erik Martinez faltered in the bottom of the 11th after valiant scoreless efforts in the bottom of the ninth and tenth.
Appearing emotionally and physically exhausted by the previous day’s doubleheader, game four was an ugly 11-2 loss, which saw freshman Rogelio Reyes give up four runs over 4.0 innings in his first collegiate start. Dodson once again come through for the Bears at the plate, knocking in one run with the other coming courtesy of sophomore Jeffrey Mitchell Jr., who’s hitting .310 and slugging .483.
“(Reyes) was definitely promising,” Esquer said. “He missed up a couple time and they took advantage of that, but overall there was a lot (he did) that could help us down the line.”
Perhaps close games with a top team can be a learning experience for the Bears. But there can only be so many losses, regardless of their educational value, before a lopsided record becomes an oppressive force. We’ll see if the young Bears can avoid that fate.