Anyone watching would think that pitching is fundamentally a violent action: Muscles and ligaments ripple and contort to whip the arm toward the target at astounding speed. Beneath the visual suddenness of the motion, however, is a series of structured, graceful movements that combine to generate explosive power. Weight transfer from leg to leg sends energy upward through the body; the hips guide that force up the back and into the shoulder. Finally, the arm rotates, snapping through the air and firing the ball forward.
The act of pitching is a microcosm of baseball. Different parts of the body work together, each contributing as much as it can toward the goal of painting an unhittable fastball on the corner of the plate. In an abstract sense, every strike is a win — and it takes maximum effort from an entire team to find success in this game.
Cal’s pitchers were nearly untouchable in a crucial Pac-12 series against Washington last weekend, and they were rewarded with the Bears’ first series sweep in nearly two years. Coach Mike Neu’s staff yielded two earned runs over 27 innings, with Sean Sullivan and Grant Holman delivering phenomenal starts before handing the ball to an impenetrable bullpen.
Reliever Josh White served as an effective opener Friday with 3.2 shutout innings; his sterling 1.77 ERA is ever-so-close to qualifying as best in the Pac-12. White will need to average at least one inning per game to claim his spot as ERA leader, and Neu plans to give him the opportunities to do so.
“(Josh) has been good in any role this year. We’re trying to put a little more on his plate, and hopefully, he can continue to have success there,” Neu said. “He’s made a big jump from last season going into this one.”
While the Cal arms kept Husky bats in check, Neu’s lineup capitalized in spots where its opponents could not. Right fielder Dylan Beavers mashed his 11th and 12th home runs of the season over the weekend to take over the Pac-12 home run lead. Meanwhile, Washington had no answer for the speed of Darren Baker on the basepaths — on the series, the senior went 7-for-11 at the plate and 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts. Cal returned to the Bay Area after three important conference wins: 9-0 Friday, 5-1 Saturday and 3-2 Sunday.
“(The sweep) feels good. Obviously, coming off of a couple series where we felt like we didn’t play our best baseball and getting into a part of the season where we have to play better and give ourselves a chance to get back into this thing — it was huge,” Neu said. “Getting that win on Sunday got us back to .500 in conference.”
Cal’s pitching came back down to earth in a Tuesday slugfest against San Jose State. After digging themselves a 9-0 hole through the first four innings, the Bears jumped back into the game with a merry-go-round on the bases in the bottom of the fifth. Fifteen batters came to the plate against three different Spartan pitchers, and a Quentin Selma grand slam capped off a wild 11-run inning. Cal still wasn’t done; the Bears tacked on two runs in the seventh and five more in the eighth to complete a miraculous 18-10 comeback win.
With no more nonconference games remaining on its schedule, Cal now faces a formidable second half of matchups with Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon. The Sun Devils will be in town from May 7-9, but the Bears aren’t fazed by conference heavyweights — in fact, they’re eager to show that they can hold their own against them.
“If we deserve to be a regional team, we’ll prove it or disprove it over the next month,” Neu said. I think it’s exciting to get that chance to play some of these teams that are in front of you and make up some ground. Hopefully, we can stay hot and continue to be hot at the right time to finish up strong and to hopefully get to a regional.”
At 9-9 in conference games on the year, Cal will need wins in key series to turn those hopes into reality.
With the poise that the Bears showed in erasing the 9-0 deficit they faced in their tussle with the Spartans, there’s no question that they have both the ability and the mental fortitude to overcome long odds.
The team’s first game against Arizona State is a 3:05 p.m. meeting at Evans Diamond on Friday — with every game holding immense importance, the Bears need every fiber of the team to continue holding strong if they plan to bring out their best.
Chanun Ong covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].