What more can one say about a storied rivalry? Two sides clash in a high-stakes battle, carrying the history of their predecessors on their shoulders, employing a combination of competitive spirit and guile. When we speak of rivalries — Yankees and Red Sox, Lakers and Celtics — we are reminded of all the great moments that have come before.
Even though the Cal baseball team had several opportunities to put its archrival, No. 3 Stanford, away, it ultimately dropped its weekend series, two games to one. Cal’s lone win ended in an eye-popping 18-2 victory behind its potent offense and ace, junior Jared Horn.
“Similar to some of the games in other series that we’ve played, we haven’t quite gotten over that hump,” said head coach Mike Neu. “We’re capable of playing with some of these top-tier teams. … We just have to play a bit cleaner over the course of the whole weekend and have a couple more guys step up in certain plays.”
Friday’s series opener was yet another match that got away from the Bears in late innings. Cal owned a 6-5 lead entering the seventh inning behind the bats of Andrew Vaughn, Korey Lee and Quentin Selma, but some lackluster defense gave the Cardinal a spark to start their rally.
In the seventh, a fielder’s choice allowed a Cardinal base runner to reach safely, while another scored. Later in the inning, a single through the right side of the infield gave Stanford a 7-6 lead.
Cal would not be able to close the gap; instead, Stanford tacked on three more runs between the eighth and ninth innings, winning with a final score line of 10-7.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Horn’s dominance against a top team would be outshined, but in this game, the Bears’ offense stole the limelight from their ace.
By the time freshman Mitchell Scott recorded the game’s final out on the mound, Cal had put up 18 runs and 20 hits against the 15th-ranked pitching staff in the country. This Cardinal clobbering was truly a team effort, as every Cal position player who started the game recorded a hit, and all but two starters recorded an RBI.
As for Horn, Saturday was another lights-out performance. The right-hander threw for seven innings in the win, allowing only three hits and three walks with six strikeouts. Horn left the game after his offense amassed a 15-0 lead.
“For us to sweep some of these series, or win some of these series, or even have some of these big wins, we would not be able to do it without (Horn’s) performances the past five or six weeks,” Neu said. “I think it’s great knowing that our guy’s coming out and bringing his A-game every weekend. That’s the level we need to be on.”
Cal’s win was the most lopsided victory for either side of the Cal-Stanford rivalry since 2003.
In the final matchup of the series, fans saw a regression to the mean from both sides. Stanford’s pitching staff regained its footing after a brief implosion, and Cal’s lineup could not repeat its historic performance in game two.
In the third, Selma fumbled a potentially inning-ending double-play ball, which left two Stanford runners on base. The next batter for the Cardinal, sophomore Tim Tawa, unloaded on a breaking ball for a three-run homer to left field.
Freshman Sam Stoutenborough pitched 6 1/3 innings to keep Cal within striking distance. Vaughn contributed a two-run home run in the eighth inning, which accounted for the Bears’ only runs on the day, as the Bears lost by a 5-2 margin.
This series has huge implications for the Bears, who have planted themselves firmly in the postseason conversation over the past month. That said, Cal still has to finish the regular season strong if these hopes are to become reality.
“We’ve got ASU at home and Washington on the road, and those are two good teams,” Neu said. “Our guys know what they need to do. I think if we do that, then we’ll come out the other side and be in a (NCAA) regional.”
Max Mennemeier covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].