Saturday, May 16, 2009

Titans Hook Bruins


By Don Hudson

The human equation was on display Friday night at Goodwin Field as the Cal State Fullerton Titans downed the UCLA Bruins by a 6-3 score. It marked the return of Rick Vanderhook in his first game in the opponent's dugout following a long and distinguished career with the Titans as a player and assistant coach. The game also featured a pitching match-up between former Orange Lutheran teammates Daniel Renken and Gerrit Cole, the 2007 and 2008 Trinity League Pitchers-of-the-Year. Cole surprised the baseball world last summer when he declined a bajillion dollar signing bonus as a first-round draft choice of the New York Yankees and opted to matriculate to UCLA.

Through the outstanding performance of Renken, Vanderhook had very little action in the third base coach's box most of the game: Renken was throwing a no-hitter until two outs in the top of the seventh inning when a soft ducksnort by Cody Decker fell in for a base hit. While Renken displayed great control and command of his pitches, Cole was not so fortunate.

Late in the game, however, the Bruins' bats came alive and they ended up outhitting the Titans, 7-6.

After an easy 1-2-3 first inning for Renken, Cole did not appear to have control right away when he walked leadoff man Christian Colon, who was sacrificed to second by Gary Brown and advanced to third on a passed ball. As proved to be his downfall, Cole got ahead of Clark with a 1-2 count, but could not finish him off: Clark lined a base-hit just over the outstretched glove of leaping third-baseman Casey Haerther and the Titans had a 1-0 lead. Cole then got ahead of Khris Davis 1-2 and threw a high cookieball down the middle of the plate: Davis belted it three-quarters of the way up the batter's eye in centerfield for his team-leading eleventh home run, giving the Titans a 3-0 advantage.

After a second three up, three down inning by Renken, the Titans got a break with an error by the Bruins' oftimes porous defense and added two more unearned runs. Dustin Garneau led off the second inning with a walk and advanced to third on a Joe Scott sacrifice and a stolen base. After Colon walked to put runners at the corners with two outs, the Titans put a play on, with Colon breaking towards second on the pitch. Catcher Steve Rodriguez bluffed a throw to second and faked Garneau out of his jockstrap. Garneau got caught in a rundown between third and home - when he made his last ditch attempt to get back to third base, 3B Haerther dropped a throw that would have easily retired Garneau to end the inning. Gary Brown took advantage of the miscue by driving a basehit (on guess what - a 1-2 pitch) through the left side of the infield to score both runners and give the Titans a quick 5-0 lead over UCLA and their wunderkind pitcher.

Similar to his last home start versus UC Santa Barbara, Renken's teammates spotted him to a sizeable early lead and then it was just a question of how dominant the sophomore pitcher would be for the remainder of the game. Answer: extremely dominant. Renken would have been carrying a perfect game into the seventh inning but for a hit-batsman in the fifth inning: with two outs in the inning, CF Blair Dunlap became the first UCLA baserunner when a 2-2 pitch came inside and hit him. (Dunlap leaned back to get out of the way of the pitch, then appeared to lean slightly back in to get plunked.)

Nick Ramirez led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a home run off the net in rightfield to give the Titans a 6-0 lead. Two batters later, Scott beat out a bunt single (and was retired on a great throw by RF Chris Giovanazzo when Cole's throw to first went awry) and Cole was done after 5 2/3 innings.

Renken took his no-hitter into the seventh inning and quickly retired the first two hitters he faced. But Decker, after doing his famous six-step leg stretching ritual before every pitch, dinked a soft flyball into no-man's land in left-centerfield. (Decker has banged 17 bombs this year, so both Newman and Fellhauer had to play deep and give him the respect he has earned.) The season-high crowd of 3,335 gave Renken a standing ovation after he surrendered his first hit of the game.

The Bruins plated their first run in the top of the eighth on a leadoff triple by Dunlap and a one-out infield single by Nico Gallego. (It should have been an RBI groundout, as Brown had to wait on a high chopper and Clark scooped his throw out of the dirt just about a full step before Gallego got to the bag. Coach Serrano went out to argue with umpire Rich Padilla, but just what can you say when he just plain misses an obvious call? Umps make mistakes and this one was too innocuous to beat into the ground.)

Things got tighter than wanted in the ninth inning. After a lengthy (ten pitch) one-out at-bat in which the home crowd got into it by counting along ("1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6!") with each of Decker's leg ticks, he finally won the battle and walked. With two outs, Dunlap hit one deep to right-center that just eluded a diving Fellhauer: the triple made it 6-2. A single by Giovanazzo made it 6-3 and brought closer Nick Ramirez into the game. With the southpaw pitcher naturally falling off to the third-base side of the mound, Gallego adroitly bunted the first pitch to the first-base side of the mound for an uncontested base hit that brought the tying run to the plate. UCLA Coach John "The Sheriff" Savage sent Gabe Cohen to the plate as a pinch-hitter to try to tie the game with one swing. But a filthy 1-2 hook buckled Cohen's knees and he took a called third strike to end the game, giving Nick Ramirez his fifth save of the season.


So what did we learn Friday night?

Experience and coaching make a huge difference in baseball. At this point in their college careers, the Renken vs. Cole match-up was a pitcher vs. a thrower. Renken may not have the raw physical talent of Cole to throw in the high 90's, but he has tremendous command of his pitches and a repertoire of pitches he can go to with confidence regardless of the count. He threw 118 pitches in the game - 85 for strikes. Cole walked four and struck out just two: his 102 pitches included 65 strikes. But beware, Titans fans: enjoy it now....because this kid looks like the real deal and he is going to be a force when he gets more experience and coaching. The three biggest hits of the game off him (Clark's RBI single, Davis' two-run homer and Brown's two-RBI single) were all on 1-2 counts.

It was a nice night for Nick Ramirez: a home run and a save. Have the Titans ever had a guy before that can get home runs and saves in the same game? Let me know if you can think of anybody.

The Titans were 4-4 in stolen bases last night. During the recent hot sreak, their stolen base percentage has been off the charts. I would expect them to continue running aggressively until their opponent demonstrates they can be stopped, just as happened in the first two games last week at Cal Poly.

Add one more chapter to the Jared Clark Legend in his career at Cal State Fullerton. Some of his best hitting has been against pitchers projected for major league stardom. Who can forget his three-run homer in the 2006 CWS against North Carolina's Andrew Miller, the national Co-Player of the Year (along with Wes Roemer)? Or how about the two-run first-inning homer against Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State, considered the best collegiate pitching prospect in at least one generation? One year to the day after torching Strasburg, Clark got a clutch two-out hit against Gerrit Cole, considered by many scouts as the best pitcher in the 2009 draft. If Clark had not come up with that hit, the game last night could have played much differently.

Tonight should be a great match-up at Jackie Robinson Stadium between two of the country's premier freshman pitchers: Noe Ramirez (6-1, 2.91) for the Titans and Trevor Bauer (8-3, 2.68) for the Bruins. The game starts at 6:00. With two busloads of Titans fans coming to the game and many more driving to the game directly, we should have a good show of support as the Titans continue their quest for a national seed. It should be fun.

1 comment:

HereWeGoTitans said...

Thanks again, Don, for another super write-up and your usual great photos!

"It was a nice night for Nick Ramirez: a home run and a save. Have the Titans ever had a guy before that can get home runs and saves in the same game? Let me know if you can think of anybody."Answer: Mark Kotsay from the immortal '95 team. He was the team's best hitter, fielder, thrower, runner, and reliever. When it was time for a save Kots would jog in from center field as the crowd went wild. In Omaha, he hit numerous homers and pitched well in what is still considered by many to be the best performance by any player in the history of the CWS. It was a magical time to be a Titan!