Sunday, April 5, 2009

Titans Salvage Series Finale

GAME 27: TITANS 5, UC IRVINE 4 (10 Innings)

By Don Hudson

Folks, I have a 3:30 a.m. alarm clock set to go off to get me to a ridiculously early flight back east, so I'm going to try to be brief in these recaps.

Saturday, April 4th: Anteaters 6, Titans 1
UCI got excellent pitching for the second consecutive game of this Big West Conference series, along with steady defense and clutch hitting.

The Titans' hitting sucked and their late-game defense fell apart.

Believe it or not, the Van Raaphorst/Finley/Pflugradt umpiring team managed to do an even worse job than the nationally televised debacle on Friday. (More comments on that later.)

Sunday, April 5th: Titans 5, Anteaters 4 (10 innings)

Trailing throughout most of the game and the series, the Cal State Fullerton Titans came from behind this afternoon at Goodwin Field to defeat the UCI Anteaters, 5-4, in 10 innings.

As he did Saturday night, Jeff Cusick got UCI on the board with a first inning home run. The Titans tied the score in their part of the first inning when Christian Colon led off with a single and went to second on a Jeff Newman sacrifice, to third on a wild pitch and scored on a fielder's choice/ROE by Josh Fellhauer. After a single by Jared Clark, UCI pitcher Crosby Slaught avoided further damage by inducing a double-play ball from Pill.

The woes of the previous two games came back in the top of the second inning as UCI scored thrice, aided by two errors and three singles and an HBP allowed by Pill. At that point, it did not look like we would be seeing much of Mr. Pill on the hill this day.

But he regrouped and showed great composure. He made good use of his pitch count and held the Anteaters scoreless all the way from the fourth through the eighth innings.

During the middle innings, the Titans offense began to shake off its recent cobwebs and put runners on base, but the clutch two-out hitting that we saw through Moustache March continued to be missing in April. There were also runners cut down on the bases that seemed overly aggressive considering the three run deficit.

The Titans finally got some runs for their efforts in the bottom of the seventh inning. Joey Siddons reached on a leadoff single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. One out later, Tony Harkey rolled a ball in front of the plate and was safe when the throw from catcher Frances Larson was high and puklled Cusick off the base. Josh Fellhauer drove in Siddons on a groundout. After Harkey advanced on a wild pitch (barely making it ahead of the throw to third), Jared Clark made it 4-3 with an infield single.
With momentum shifting towards the Fullerton side, Pill pitched a strong 1-2-3 eighth inning. Irvine opted to bring in Eric Pettis, its closer, for an attempted two inning save. With one out, Bill Marcoe banged out his third hit of the day and advanced to second base on a ground out by Nick Ramirez, who had pinch-hit for Joe Scott. (With Gary Brown coming into the game the next inning because of the Scott substitution, wouldn't you think you'd bring him in to pinch run for Marcoe as the tying run at second base?) Joey Siddons made it a moot point as he knocked an RBI single that scored Marcoe easily. Perhaps sensing he might need to help Marcoe score, Siddons got held up (unnecessarily) in a rundown between first and second bases to end the inning with the score tied, 4-4.

Michael Morrison came into the game and sent me searching through my backpack for my blood pressure pills. He loaded the bases with two walks and a single before coming up with a huge strikeout and a harmless flyball to centerfield.
The Titans had a golden opportunity to win the game in regulation play. Colon led off with a single and went to second on a Tony Harkey sacrifice bunt. When Fellhauer was wakled to set up a double-play situation and a righty/righty matchup for Pettis, Clark hit a groundball that forced out Felly but missed doubling Clark. But Colon never stopped coming around third base and was thrown out at the plate by a great margin.

Morrison's adventure continued in the tenth. After getting Ben Orloff in an 0-2 hole, Michael's next pitch was drilled into rightfield for a base hit. With the next hitter presumably prepared to surrender an out in exchange for advacing the runner into scoring position, Morrison walked Derigasch on four pitches and Dave Serrano came out with the hook. Ryan Ackland came in and proved to be an unsung hero of the game: he got Cusick on a "strike'em out - throw'em out" double-play and ended the inning with an easy groundball to third base.

With the Irvine bullpen depleted by their earlier strategic matchup substitutions, Pettis was forced to pitch into his third inning of work - which may have been his undoing. Pill led off with a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Shevis Shema. After two failed bunt attempts, Khris Davis banged a 2-2 pitch into centerfield for a base hit. A perfect sacrifice bunt by Garneau placed the winning run at third base with just one out. UCI skipper Mike Gillespie made all the right moves to try to get out of the desperate situation: he had Fellhauer intentionally loaded to set up a force play at every base and he set up a five man infield and a drawn in infield.

That brings Joey Siddons to the plate, already 3-3 on the day and hitting the ball hard - a hero in the seventh and eighth inning rallies. Naturally, you let him hit, eh? Wrong! Coach Serrano opted to go for the more powerful lefthanded-hitting Matthew Fahey, who had hit the ball deep and solid in his only at-bat the previous night. When the count ran to 2-2, Fahey blasted a shot into left-centerfield, far past the drawn in outfielders. What a great comeback win and how wonderful it was to see contributions from so many players that play so sparingly.

So what did we learn in the last 24 hours?

I think we got an up-close look at what we already knew: Irvine has an excellent team and is as strong as anybody the Titans have played this season.

With the offense scoring just one run in the nine innings of regulation play in five of the seven previous games, it was no surprise to see some shake-up in the Fullerton line-up today. Christian Colon batted leadoff (instead of second); Jeff Newman batted second (instead of ninth); Tyler Pill was the DH (instead of Nick Ramirez); Billy Marcoe caught (as he has been doing in at least one game per series) and Joey Siddons played third base (instead of Gary Brown).

Marcoe and Siddons both had three hits, making the case for more playing time for a team in an offensive funk. Marcoe dropped a throw at the plate that allowed Irvine's fourth run to score, and Siddons' two errors was a considerable factor in the runs allowed early by Pill, so the balance between offense and defense still must be considered.

With his two caught stealings today, Marcoe is now 4-4 on the year in nailing would-be base pilferers.

One of the most encouraging things that happened in the last 24 hours was the way the two freshmen battled back after early game adversity. Noe Ramirez fell behind 3-0 before the Dodgers fans had even arrived in the first inning, but he pitched very well after that and ended up going 7 1/3 innings and allowed just one run after the first inning gopher ball. Today, Pill looked like he had nothing early on, giving up a first inning home run to Jeff Cusick and three runs in the second on three hits and a hit batter (plus two errors). But after the shaky start, he was magnificent: he allowed just one hit and no runs from the fourth to the eighth innings.

Finally, I want to throw in my two cents worth on the umpiring in this series and the Big West in general. I thought my Friday post may have been too critical - until they were even worse on Saturday. Dwayne Finley, whose lack of hustle and physical fitness has him chronically out of position to make calls, asked for trouble in the first inning by granting Ben Orloff (UCI) first base when he leaned into a soft breaking ball and then calling Gary Brown back in the bottom of the inning when he got drilled by a fastball.

Did the umpires determine the outcome of any game this series? Not really - although the inconsistent and ridiculous strike zones of Van Raaphorst and Finley certainly impacted the outcome of many at-bats directly. (I loved the guy that walked down the aisle behind the plate and yelled at Finley, "It's a strike zone - not an area code!") Multiple partisan Irvine supporters have told me that Colon was not tagged out on the high throw that pulled the first-baseman off the bag (although Pflugradt called him out) and Van Raaphorst blatantly missed the pickoff at second base by Witten late in the game.

Last night, I sent a note to Dennis Farrell, the Vince McMahon of the Big West Conference, asking him what they were doing about the embarrassing situation with substandard umpiring. I noted how the quality of programs, players and coaches has made this perhaps the best baseball conference top-to-bottom in the country, but the umpiring has not gotten one lick better since the days long gone by when the conference was Fullerton and the Seven Dwarfs.

I must say I am genuinely impressed that I got a reply from him today, even if it is just a form letter they mass mail the day after Dwayne Finley or Mike Gilmore umpires behind the plate somewhere:

Dear Fan:

Please know that the Big West Conference takes its officiating very seriously in all sports. In the sport of baseball, all umpires go through a rigorous NCAA certification process before being assigned to officiate at this level. Then, all Big West umpires are evaluated every time they step onto the field by not only our coaches, but by independent evaluators as well.

Our coordinator of baseball umpires, who himself worked at the highest level of collegiate baseball and umpired several College World Series championship games, also evaluates our umpires throughout the season and communicates any concerns he may find.Finally, at the end of every season our coordinator files a report with our head coaches who then make recommendations for altering our umpiring roster.

Thank you for your continued support of Big West Conference baseball and I hope this has shed some light on our processes for continuing the improvement of our umpiring program.


Dennis Farrell

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Don. I was unable to attend today's game or to follow it on the Internet, but your account makes me feel like I was there. Great job!