Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Near-Perfect Pill


By Don Hudson

Freshman pitcher Tyler Pill threw a one-hit complete game shutout Saturday afternoon at Matador Field as the Cal State Fullerton Titans took the rubber game of their Big West Conference series, defeating host Cal State Northridge, 8-0. The offense was led by Josh Fellhauer (5-for-5) and Khris Davis (three-run homer and 5 RBI.)

It was evident right away that Pill was going to be tough to hit when he struck out the first three Matadors he faced on balls in the dirt that catcher Bill Marcoe had to block. (In fact, the only base runner the Matadors managed in the first six inning was second batter T.S. Reed, who struck out in the first but reached on a wild pitch.) An early Matador threat was avoided after Reed stole second base and was stranded when cleanup hitter Dominic D'Anna hit a screamer that was fielded nicely by first-baseman Jared Clark.

Unlike last season's 17-15 rubber game between the Titans and Matadors at Goodwin Field, this game was a tight pitchers duel for five innings. After Reed reached on the wild pitch strikeout, Pill retired the next seventeen Matador hitters consecutively. Meanwhile, Justen Gorski, making his first start of the season, scattered four hits through the first five innings of shutout baseball. The Titans biggest threat during the early innings was the fourth, when Jeff Newman led off with a single and Josh Fellhauer turned an attempted sacrifice bunt into a base hit. After Clark sacrificed both runners ahead, Gorski settled down and struck out Nick Ramirez and retired Khris Davis to end the threat.

The Titans finally broke through against Gorski in the sixth inning. After Christian Colon's hustling double started the inning, Jeff Newman sacrificed him to third base. Josh Fellhauer broke the scoreless tie with a solid base hit into rightfield. After Felly stole second base, the Matadors worked around Clark and walked him to set up a potential double-play. After Ramirez struck out, Khris Davis lined a pitch that looked at first like one of those "oh, darn, he it hard but right at the centerfielder," but it kept on carrying and gave the Titans a 4-0 lead when it landed on the other side of the outfield wall for a three-run homer.
The Titans were not done yet. Gary Brown hit the first of his two doubles in the game and scored on a two-out RBI single by Billy Marcoe off reliever Davin Tate.

The Titans threatened again in the seventh, when Fellhauer and Clark both singled - and the speedy Clark pilfered his tenth sack of the year. But Tate escaped harm with strikeouts of Ramirez and Davis.

After the time-honored tradition in the middle of the seventh inning, interest started to stir about how far Pill would go before surrendering a hit. Bowing to baseball tradition and superstition, nobody within earshot used those words "no hitter", but I'm sure it was on everyone's mind as the game got into the late innings.

The classic Jack Norworth lyrics "For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, at the old ballgame" had barely been uttered when CSUN shortstop T.S. Reed lined a no-doubt-about-it base hit to centerfield. Pill received a nice ovation from the fans in both rooting sections. Not distracted by the no-hitter being broken up, Pill and his defense erased the runner when Ryan Pineda hit a ball sharply into the shortstop hole that was turned nicley into a Colon-to Scott-to Clark double-play.

Trailing 5-0 entering the ninth inning, CSUN coach Steve Rousey opted to bring in his closer (Brian Slover), who had thrown 3 2/3 innings of shutout ball in the Thursday marathin game. Coming back on just one day's rest after the extended outing, his 'stuff' was not nearly as good on Saturday. Jeff Newman led off with a HBP and went to third on Fellhauer's fifth single of the day. Clark then drove in Newman with a double. After a groundout by pinch-hitter Joey Siddons with the infield in did not allow the runners to advance, Khris Davis drove in his fourth and fifth runs of the day with a base hit up the middle, making the score 8-0.

The only question then was whether Pill would come out to pitch the ninth inning and nail down the complete game and the shutout. He issued his only walk of the day to Jeff Pruitt leading off the ninth, but he finished strong by retiring the next three hitters to end the game.


So what did we learn yesterday?

First off, this young pitching staff is pretty good. Northridge is a good hitting team - particularly at home - yet Titan pitchers posted zeros in 28 of the 33 innings played in this series.

After the Oral Roberts series, we observed that Pill was giving up a fair number of hits but avoiding damage by his knack of 'scattering' them. But with this win yesterday - making him 6-0 - Pill has now allowed just two hits in his last fifteen innings pitched (going back to last week against UCI.) How is that for scattering hits?

The offense is showing signs of breaking out of its mid-season malaise. Khris Davis went 6-for-13 against Northridge, including three doubles, a home run and five RBI. Josh Fellhauer went 9-for-17 and had two RBI and a stolen base. Gary Brown also had a good series both offensively and defensively, going 5-for-15 with three doubles and three stolen bases - all on one trip around the bases in the series opener.

Finally, let's make it a good showing Tuesday night at Dedeaux Field against the USC Trojans. The Diamond Club bus trip is sold out and I understand a large number of Titans fans are driving to the game. Let's join forces at the game and give a strong showing of support to help these guys move forward with the rejuvenation which we saw in the last two games in Northridge.

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