Thursday, May 7, 2009

Titans Sweep Mildcats

The Cal State Fullerton Titans continued their recent run of excellent play in defeating the University of Arizona Mildcats, 5-2 and 8-4, in mid-week action as they prepared to head to San Luis Obispo for a crucial BWC series against Cal Poly.

The 'Cats came out clawing, as they roughed up starter Kevin Rath with a walk, double, HBP and RBI single to take a quick 1-0 lead and load the bases with nobody out. Blood was in the water.
But out trotted Coach Serrano to discuss the situation and Rath turned into Sandy Koufax: he used a dazzling array of fastballs, change-ups and breaking balls to strike out the next three Arizona batters and leave the bags loaded.

The pain, cruelty and injustice of baseball was on full display this inning. The 'Cats sent seven hitters to the plate to grind out a run......and with one swing of the bat from the Titan lead-off man, the game was tied as Christian Colon banged a home-run high off the screen in leftfield off starter Joe Allison.

The Titans plated the go-ahead run the next inning on a bunt single by Dustin Garneau, a balk, another balk and an RBI single by Joe Scott. After allowing an unearned run in the top of the third to tie the score, 2-2, the Titans took the lead for good in their half of the third inning. After Josh Fellhauer led off with a double, he went to third on a nice bit of unselfish hitting by Jared Clark, who managed to hit a two-strike pitch to the right side to move the runner along. Khris Davis hit a sacrifice fly to give the Titans the 3-2 lead.

While Rath continued to throw goose-eggs after his rocky debut, in the fifth inning the Titans faced Preston Guilmet, the ace of the UofA staff as he made a relief appearance on one of his scheduled between-starts throwing days. After Gary Brown hit a one-out double, Fellhauer launched one into the arboretum for a two-run homer that gave the Titans a 5-2 lead which would become the eventual final score.

The key to making the lead stand-up was brilliant relief pitching by Travis Kelly and Nick Ramirez. Kelly pitched three innings of one-hit ball, striking out four and seeming to give the Titans a big emotional lift. Ramirez struck out two in the ninth inning in gaining his third save of the season.

On a designated staff day in which seemingly everybody except "Uncle Larry" got to pitch, the Titans played a good all-around game and posted a comfortable 8-4 win over Arizona. The Titans' run total was suppressed by a couple peculiar umpiring calls that stymied potentially big innings.

After a scoreless first inning, the 'Cats scored two runs against starter Kyle Witten in the second inning. Jett Bandy led off and hit a shot over the third base bag that Joey Siddons nicely backhanded to keep it to just a single. Bobby Coyle dropped a perfectly placed dinker into the rightfield corner for a triple, making it 1-0, and scored on a sacrifice fly.

The lead evaporated quickly, as the Titans responded with three runs. Khris Davis led off with a single and came around to score on a double by Nick Ramirez. After advancing on a groundout, Ramirez scored the tying run on an RBI single by Joe Scott. Joey Siddons reached base when the pitcher threw wide to second attempting to start a double-play. Christian Colon's RBI single then gave the Titans a 3-2 with runners at the corners and just one out. When Jeff Newman hot a chopper to third, Siddons held up until the third-baseman released his throw to first. Siddons made a hard charge for home on a bang-bang play at the plate, pictured below. I love the look on both players in the second picture as they await the verdict: "OUT!!!"

Brock Floro was the Titans first reliever of the evening and he pitched one scoreless inning and was eventually credited with the win, his first as a Titan. His teammates lengthened the lead in the bottom of the third with two runs. With two outs and the bases loaded, Joe Scott grounded a 3-2 pitch to the right of the first-baseman, who made a routine play and looked to toss it to pitcher Bryce Bandilla. Fortunately for the Titans, the pitcher took a brief cat-nap before heading over to cover the bag - Scott just plain outhustled him to the bag and it turned into a two-RBI when Khris Davis, running on the pitch, hustled in to score from second base, making it 5-2, Titans.

After Colin O'Connell pitched a scoreless fourth frame, the Titans added another run on a Colon single, a Newman sacrifice bunt and an RBI single by Brown.

Michael Morrison pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning, looking very sharp as he struck out two.

Perhaps the strangest call we've seen in a while occurred in the last of the fifth. Walks to Billy Marcoe and Joe Scott, followed by a Siddons' bunt single, loaded the bases with nobody out and the top of the order coming up. Big inning coming, eh? But plate umpire Bradley Hungerford injected himself into the outcome in head-scratching fashion. Colon hit a slow, high chopper to third-base, too slow to even think about a double-play, so 3B Jett Bandy threw towards the plate for the force on Marcoe. But the throw hit Marcoe, deflected away, and two runners scored.

But, in the immortal words of the late great Joe Besser, "Not so fast!" (I didn't get a pic of Hungerford making this call, so I went with a different Stooge.) He ruled that Marcoe had intentionally interfered with the play - some trick considering he had his back to the play and never saw the ball - and both Marcoe and Colon were ruled out and the other runners returned to first and second. Nice rally killer, Blue!

After Ryan Ackland threw a scoreless sixth inning, the Titans added another run on a two-out walk by Davis and an RBI double by Nick Ramirez, his second of the game.

The Mildcats and Titans traded late solo tallies. In the eighth inning for CSUF, Gary Brown doubled (90% of the crowd missed it while begging for Klondike bars) and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Davis.

Kyle Mertins pitched two innings to close it out, allowing just a harmless run in the ninth.


So did we learn this mid-week?

First, we learned that the talent level on this team is extraordinarily high and when they are focused and hustle, they are very tough to beat. The Tuesday game was dominated by outstanding pitching, while the Wednesday game had more hitting and some great defense.

Did anybody keep track of how many great stops Joey Siddons made at third base last night? (I really do need to start writing down notes.) He made some great ones. Jeff Newman also made a great running catch deep in leftfield - he crashed into the wall and was down momentarily, but it takes more than a solid wall to keep that kid down.

We saw some really good things from Nick Ramirez this week, both offensively and in his new role as the presumptive closer. He crushed a ball to the deepest part of Goodwin Field on Tuesday and got nothing to show for it, but his two RBI doubles last night were vital. When the Titans were at their best this season, Nick was hitting the spit out of the ball and seemed to be in the middle of every big inning - it just feels like he is close to getting back to that point. It was also good to see him pitch in consecutive games, a prerequisite for a reliever in key playoff situations.
It was very nice to see Travis Kelly pitch "lights out" in an extended mound stint. I also like seeing Brock Floro and Colin O'Connell getting a little more experience. The benefit of that experience may not occur this year, but certainly sometime in the future.

Gary Brown continues to play lights-out baseball. He had four hits on Wednesday and is playing very well defensively in whichever outfield position he is needed on a given night.

It's also great to see the Titans out-hustling their opponents. You could see Santa Barbara quit at certain points in the game last weekend and the 'Cats seemed to reach a point where they just knew they were toast.

Lastly, I can't wait to get up to San Luis Obispo and some of the great clam chowder shacks and other great restaurants in the area. The trips to Cal Poly are always some of the best of the year, especially when they have a competitive team and a rabid crowd behind them.. This year should be extraordinary, as they have a very potent line-up from top to bottom, even with some key injuries. I can't wait to see how the old "good pitching beats good hitting" axiom is tested this weekend. The Mustangs have a daunting offense, but the trio of Daniel Renken, Noe Ramirez and Tyler Pill have been excellent, so let's see how well they can do in a "Super Regionals-like" atmosphere. I hope to see you out there!

1 comment:

THN said...

Great job. I appreciate these columns and the hard work you put in. Blogging can sometimes be a thankless job, so I wanted to reach out and thank you for this.