Saturday, May 2, 2009

Titans Win UCSB Series Opener


By Don Hudson

In a day marked with the immeasurable sadness of the death of Danny Gans, the Cal State Fullerton Titans played an inspired game and defeated the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, 7-2, at Goodwin Field last night. Daniel Renken had a one-hit shutout going until two outs in the top of the ninth inning.
Renken was matched with Gauchos' ace Joe Gardner, who entered the game with a 6-0 record (his team had won nine of his ten starts) and was second in the Big West Conference in strikeouts. After an embarrassing performance in the Wednesday loss to USC, the Titans regrouped, addressed their issues and came out Friday looking like a team with a new attitude.

After a scoreless first inning tossed by Renken, Gary Brown got the Titans started when he hit a squibber to the third-base side of the mound. As Gardner stood near the ball imploring his teammates not to touch it and let it roll foul - his foot touched the ball in fair territory. After advancing on a groundout, Brown scored on Jared Clark's two-out RBI double into the left-field corner. Khris Davis then lined a base hit that scored Clark with the second run.

Gauchos catcher Marty Mullins led off the third inning by hitting a line shot to centerfield on a 3-2 pitch from Renken. Josh Fellhauer froze for a microsecond and turned and ran towards the wall: the ball was not hit high enough to give him time to get back and have a play and Mullins legged his way to third base for a triple. (Felly and Christian Colon both made perfect relays and almost nailed Mullins at third base.) Speaking of 'nails', that's what Renken was when the runner reached third base with no outs: he used his best stuff to strike out the next three batters and strand the runner at third.
The Titans took a comfortable lead with four runs in the third inning. Gary Brown led off with a HBP and stole second. After Josh Fellhauer walked, Clark delivered his second RBI hit of the game, a single that scored Brown. Davis also continued his clutch hitting with a laser base hit that drove in Felly. After Clark and Davis each moved up a base on a wild pitch, Dustin Garneau made the score 6-0 with a two-run single.

From that point on, the story of the game was Renken and how far he could carry the bid for his first career complete game shutout. He faced a threat of his own doing in the fourth inning when he walked Eric Oliver and Matt Valaika, but he then was on the finishing end of a 3-6-1 double-play that ended the inning.

Rain fell throughout the middle innings as both pitchers settled into a groove and posted goose-eggs.
The Titans added an insurance run in the eighth inning off reliever Clayton Edwards when Jeff Newman reached on an infield single and went to second on an errant throw to first base, an error that allowed Dustin Garneau to reach base and a sacrifice fly by Joe Scott.

As Renken's pitch count mounted, he hit Brian Gump with a pitch and walked Eric Oliver to open the ninth frame. Ryan Cavan then hit a sinking line drive to left-field that Jeff Newman came in quickly on and grabbed off his shoetops. Newman sold it as a catch and the runners reacted as though they had seen a catch, but umpire Dan Ignosci emphatically indicated that it was not a catch. (He had good position on the play and I'm old, have eyesight like Mr. Magoo and was 250 feet away, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt this one time.) With the runners retreating based on an assumed catch, the Titans had an easy 7-6-5 force-out at third base.

The shutout appeared within reach when Renken got the next hitter to foul out to Clark, but John DeAlba hit a deep flyball into the gap in left-centerfield. Felly made a long run and a dive for the ball, but it landed just past him for a double that drove in two runs. Ryan Ackland came in and struck out Shane Carlson to end the game.

What did we learn last night?
We learned that Danny Gans was much more than the most brilliant entertainer in the world. He was a local kid that played high school baseball at Torrance High School and transferred to Cal Poly SLO after playing two seasons at Mt. SAC in Walnut. As a junior, he led the Mustangs with seven home runs and 45 RBI, earning second team Division II All-American honors. He played minor league baseball before an Achilles' tendon injury in 1978 cut short his baseball career and led him to a career in acting, singing and ultimately as "The Man of a Thousand Voices." Perhaps his greatest legacy will be that of a devout family man who gave millions of dollars to charities. Our deepest condolences to his wife, Julie, and their three children.
My neighbors in Section K learned just how much I hate getting wet: there were some light sprinkles and I broke out enough rain gear to survive the monsoon season in Tutunendo, Columbia. Given a choice between sitting around in wet clothing and being lit on fire, break out the lighter fluid.

The dismal performance against USC included missed cutoff men, misplayed balls on defense, poor at-bats, lack of hustle and focus and pitches fatter than the pastrami dip at The Hat. None of that was in evidence Friday night. The Titans ran hard on every play and applied pressure that allowed them to take a few extra bases. The relays were crisp; throws went to the right bases and backups were in position. The talent on this team is spectacular: few teams are as capable of beating the Titans as are the Titans.

I'll really be convinced things have turned around if the Titans can come out and score a lot of runs against Gaucho lefty Mario Hollands. Last year at the cow pasture they play at in Santa Barbara, he pitched a great game against CSUF.

The Titans' ten hits were evenly distributed, with Clark and Davis each getting two. Clark's 54 RBI are great, but you've got to love his 12-for-12 record in the stolen base category.

In falling just one out short of his first career shutout, Renken did equal his career high with ten strikeouts. But the toll was 146 pitches thrown on a wet night despite his team having a comfortable 7-0 lead (albeit by a pitcher that has deserved wins this season that were frittered away by the bullpen.) Going for a no-hitter? I can see having him out there almost without regard to the pitch count (in a nine inning game). But chasing a shutout? I'm glad I don't have to make those decisions.

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