Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Titans Take Series Over TCU

By Don Hudson

In a series played this past weekend at Goodwin Field, the unranked (at least by Baseball America) Cal State Fullerton Titans won 2-out-of-3 against the 15th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs. It was the first time in the current five year series between these two programs that the host team successfully defended its home turf. With the series win, the Titans moved up to #20 in the Baseball America ranking, while TCU dropped to #22.

Game 1: Horned Frogs 3, Titans 2

The Titans ran into a buzz saw on Friday night against TCU’s starting pitcher, Andrew Mitchell, who struck out 12 batters in five innings of work, allowing just one run on two hits and three walks. Despite Mitchell’s dominance, the Titans had numerous threats, aided by Mitchell’s three wild pitches, two of which allowed struck-out batters to reach base.

While Mitchell’s pitch count reached 97 in five innings, in which there were six Titans runners left on base, the Titans’ Dylan Floro dominated the TCU line-up, which arrived with a paltry team batting average of .205. Floro was lights out for the first seven innings of shutout work, in which he permitted just two singles.

The Titans took a slim 1-0 lead into the eighth inning, with the game’s only run scored in the bottom of the fifth on a walk to Anthony Trajano, a hit-and-run single by Derek Legg, a walk to Ivory Thomas and an RBI fielder’s choice by Carlos Lopez (on a bang-bang play at first base that went the Titans’ way.)

With the roles in the young Titans’ bullpen still a work in process, Floro surrendered the lead in the top of the eighth inning, with TCU scoring three runs (one unearned) to take a 3-1 lead. The damage came with two outs: the first batter struck out and the next singled but was gunned down by catcher Casey Watkins on an attempted steal. But two singles followed, and when left-handed hitting Jerrick Suitor was announced as a pinch-hitter after Floro had allowed three consecutive hits, the 2,515 coaches in attendance at Goodwin Field assumed there would be a pitching change. But the Titans stayed with their ace and Suitor spoiled the strategy by delivering a two-run triple. The Frogs added an insurance run when a bouncer to shortstop was handled cleanly by Trajano, who couldn’t get the ball out of his glove.

The Titans made it interesting in the ninth inning after Christian Coronado pitched out of a second-and-third-with-one-out jam in the top of the frame. Richy Pedroza led off with a HBP and Trajano reached base when the TCU second-baseman kicked an easy double-play ball.

Derek Legg came to the plate with two runners on and nobody out, trailing by two runs. What do you do? “The book” says you play for the tie at home and have him bunt both runners into scoring position with the dangerous Michael Lorenzen coming to the plate, but after a couple cat-and-mouse games with attempted bunts and hit-and-runs, Legg hit the ball hard on the ground for an easy 4-6-3 double-play. Lorenzen struck out (his fifth of the game) but reached on a wild pitch that scored Pedroza and extended the game. Lorenzen stole second, but was stranded when TCU closer Kaleb Merck retired Ivory Thomas on a flyball to rightfield.

I left the two losses in Gainesville feeling pretty good about the effort and how well the Titans had played – this game, however, was not a “feel good” loss. The offense managed just four hits and struck out fourteen times, leaving nine runners on base, squandering an excellent pitching performance by Floro.

Game 2: Titans 4, Horned Frogs 2

The Saturday night game started off like it was going be some kind of a nutty 11-10 slugfest, but after the first inning, it developed into a very tight pitchers’ duel that the Titans eventually got the better of. The Titans’ good luck anthem singer Rob Kaiser had barely belted out “…..home of the brave!!!!” before TCU’s Derek Odell crushed a long home-run to rightfield to give the visitors a quick 1-0 lead. Freshman hurler Kenny Mathews got out of the inning with the support of a 6-4-3 double-play.

The Titans had a chance for a big inning in the bottom of the first, when pitcher Stefan Crichton displayed early wildness with consecutive walks to Austin Kingsolver, Carlos Lopez and Ivory Thomas. Consecutive bases-loaded RBI singles by Anthony Hutting and Richy Pedroza gave the Titans a 2-1 lead, but Crichton escaped further damage with a strikeout and a fortuitous bounce when an errant pitch rebounded off the backstop right back to the TCU catcher, who easily retired Thomas attempting to score from third base.

For the next six innings, the pitching for both teams was superb, and the 2-1 first-inning lead remained the same until the top of the eighth inning. Bouncing back from his wildness-plagued short outing the previous week against Florida, Mathews displayed the talent that made him a 12th-round selection of the New York Mets in the 211 MLB draft. He pitched five strong innings, allowing just one run, scattering five hits and walking just one while striking out six Frogs.

Koby Gauna relieved Mathews in the sixth inning and continued his impressive work, allowing three hits and an unearned run in his three innings of work. Clinging to the tight 2-1 lead, Gauna gave up a leadoff single to TCU’s Jason Coats. With Coats running on the pitch, the next batter struck out, but the Frogs got a break when Chad Wallach’s throw to second hit the runner and deflected away, allowing Coats to advance to third base.

The next play was kind of funky. With a 2-1 lead in the eighth and the tying runner on third, how do you play your infield? Infield in, to cut the run down at the plate because runs have been so hard to come by? Infield back, to allow the tying run to score but prevent a big inning, especially since you have one more at-bat remaining than your opponent? Halfway? The Titans played the infield back. Zac Jordan squibbed a soft liner towards shortstop – too soft to catch in the air with the infield back, but not soft enough to let the runner be 100% certain it will fall and get a good jump coming home. CSUF shortstop Keegan Dale picked the ball up on the hop, saw that the runner got a late break and threw to the plate, but his off-balance throw was in the dirt and the score was tied, 2-2.

I loved how the Titans did not get down after surrendering an eighth inning run again – they bounced right back with two of their own, with key contributions from several freshmen. J.D. Davis ripped a line single to rightfield to start the inning and was replaced on the bases by the speedy Austin Diemer. After a walk to Pedroza put two runners on with no outs, Matt Orloff made his first appearance of the season as a pinch-hitter, ostensibly to bunt the runners into scoring position. But a wild pitch advanced them without need for a bunt. After Orloff was retired, Coach Vanderhook sent freshman catcher Jesse Jenner to the plate to hit for Dale.

Jenner’s first collegiate at-bat was memorable: he dunked a flare into leftfield for an RBI that was the game’s eventual winning run. (If LF Coats would have caught the ball, it would have been interesting to see if the runner, Diemer, would have tagged and attempted to score on a very shallow ball.) Lorenzen plated an insurance run for the Titans with a fielder’s choice groundout.

There were still a few nervous moments left, as closer Lorenzen loaded the bases with nobody out on two walks and a single. But he struck out the dangerous Odell and induced a game-ending double-play grounder that shortstop Trajano fielded near the bag and fired on to first to end the 4-2 nail-biter.

Koby Gauna (2-0, 2.16) was the winner in relief, with Lorenzen notching his second save of the season. Pedroza had two of the seven Titans hits. The Titans managed eight walks, but left ten runners on base and recorded eight strikeouts.

Game 3: Titans 11, Horned Frogs 10 (8 innings)

Where do we even begin on this one? In the interest of avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome, I’ll try to stick to the high points of this game.

In deference to the travel itinerary of the visiting Horned Frogs, the game began at 11:00 a.m. and the teams established a pre-determined curfew that no inning could start after 2:15 p.m. They never announce those things to the crowd, lest the home fans resort to shenanigans to delay the game if their team is leading as the curfew time approaches. But after the game ended abruptly with an announcement of the curfew agreement, some of the things that happened late in the game began to make more sense. (Could there possibly be a better game than baseball?)

The Titans sent Davis to the hill to start the game in his collegiate pitching debut. He quickly surrendered two runs on a pair of infield singles, a double-steal and a two-run RBI single by TCU’s Zac Jordan, who was gunned down by Watkins on an attempted steal.

The Titans immediately responded with a solo tally in the bottom of the first on a double by Lorenzen, breaking his 0-for-10 series drought, an error and an RBI single by Lopez. The Titans evened the score at 2-2 in the second on a single by Dale and an RBI double by Pedroza.

Trailing 3-2, the Titans exploded – or perhaps we should say the Horned Frogs imploded – for nine runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Watkins led off with an infield single, and the bases were quickly loaded when back-to-back sacrifices by Dale and Legg were misplayed. Lorenzen gave the Titans a 4-3 lead with a two-run single up the middle, followed by a walk to Pedroza and an RBI single by Lopez which chased starter Trey Teakell from the bump. Nick Frey entered the game for TCU and promptly hot Anthony Hutting with a pitch, driving in Lorenzen, before tossing a wild pitch for another run. Kingsolver reached base when his RBI groundout was booted and came around to score on a two-run triple by Dale on a line-drive which just eluded the dive of TCU centerfielder Kyle Von Tungeln. After Legg was hit by a pitch, Lorenzen knocked his second RBI single of the inning. The Titans’ nine runs were the result of five hits, four errors, two hit batsmen, a walk and myriad wild pitches and passed balls.

The Horned Frogs are a very competitive team and this ongoing match-up has produced some memorable battles, starting with the rubber game of the 2008 season-opening series when the Titans scored the winning run in the top of the ninth when Jeff Newman stole home on the front end of a triple-steal. I admired the way the Frogs immediately put the disastrous defensive debacle behind them like water off a duck’s back, scoring four runs in the top of the fifth on a barrage of hits off Davis and relievers Dave Birosak and Dmitri DeLaFuente. The 11-3 lead had been chopped quickly to 11-7 and you could tell this game was far from over.

The Frogs continued to chip away against DeLaFuente and Christian Coronado, scoring one run in the sixth and two more in the seventh to make it a very nervous 11-10 score. Tyler Peitzmeier, the freshman left-hander from Yutan, Nebraska, made his mound debut in the seventh inning. He gave up a base hit (deflected off him) to allow an inherited runner to score, but then retired the lead runner on an attempted sacrifice and struck out the pesky Von Tungeln to escape with no further harm.

As the TCU bullpen continued to keep the Titans off the scoreboard, the clock was starting to become a factor, albeit unbeknownst to the crowd. In hindsight, you can remember little things that both sides did that might have been directed towards the clock. The Frogs hit early in counts, took fewer warm-up pitches and eschewed throwing the ball around the infield after striking out a Titan. The Titans hit deep in counts. One time, there was a conference at the mound with all the infielders, who chatted, returned to their positions, and then Coach Saarloos came out to make a pitching change.

The eighth inning may have been the strangest of all. After Coats led off with a double, another freshman pitcher, Willie Kuhl, made his Titans debut. As Kuhl warmed up, Lorenzen also began to warm up in the outfield. In hindsight, the eighth inning was, in many respects, being played like the ninth because of the impending curfew. Kuhl was greeted by a solid single to rightfield, with Coats being held up at third base. The next play was a groundball to 3B Pedroza with the “contact” play on. Pedroza’s throw to the plate was way ahead of the runner, who was chased back to third by Watkins. It wasn’t exactly a textbook rundown play, as Kuhl was left as the last line of defense to make the tag at home, but he handled the ball well and made the tag, leaving runners at second and third with just one out.

The Titans intentionally walked the next batter to set up a possible double-play, with TCU’s catcher, Braden Mattson, coming to the plate. With the crowd already hooting Mattson for some of his ongoing antics, Mattson fell behind in the count and chased a ball outside and in the dirt for strike three. The ball went past Watkins to the screen, so the slow-footed Josh Elander barreled towards the plate trying to tie the game. Watkins quickly recovered and made an accurate throw to Kuhl covering the plate, who put his glove down and let the runner tag himself out. Everybody went nuts – the confused Frogs were still running around the bases after the third out had been recorded, forgetting that the batter could not reach base because there was only one out with first base occupied when the play began. What an inning for Kuhl: his first career strikeout; two tag-outs at home plate and his first save as a Titan!

In hindsight, now knowing how much of a factor that time was, the bottom of the eighth inning was great. TCU closer Merck was wasting no pitches, going right after the hitters and pitching as quickly as blue would allow. He quickly dispensed of the first two batters on strikeouts. Then up to the plate came Keegan Dale, who had an incredible day in the field as well as at the plate. When Merck tried to quick pitch him, Dale requested and was granted time. When the irritated Merck tried it again, Dale requested and was granted time again – you could see the steam coming out of the pitcher’s ears. Then Dale delivered a double down the leftfield line and was replaced by pinch-runner Matt Orloff. (A pinch-runner has to make sure he is adequately stretched out, which takes a little bit of time.) When Derek Legg grounded out to end the inning, it was 2:16 and the umpires immediately huddled up and began walking off the field as stadium announcer Chris Albaugh explained the pre-determined curfew agreement. I’m convinced that had Dale not stood his ground, asked for time and then delivered the double, the inning would have been completed before the curfew time and they would have played the ninth inning.

Who knows what would have happened if they had been able to play the ninth inning? The consensus around town seems to be that TCU would have come back and won. Maybe. They were hitting the spit out of the ball and you have to give them credit – they hung tough after the nine-run meltdown and, notwithstanding that frame, outscored the Titans 10-2 on the day. But with Lorenzen ready to come in and throw some good ol’ country hardball, I would have liked our chances to hold on one more inning.

It was great to see the passion displayed by Lorenzen when he demonstrably clapped his hands together when he reached third base on his double+error in the first inning. For such a great player, his uncharacteristically poor performance in the first two games was the monkey he tossed off his back on Sunday, as he went 4-for-5 with three RBI and a stolen base. Lopez had his typical productive day at the plate (3-for-5 with two RBI), but the star of the game (from my viewpoint) was Dale, who had a single, double and triple and made two spectacular defensive plays to thwart TCU rallies. Davis was credited with the victory on a designated staff day, with a save for Kuhl.


So what did we learn this series?

Many early season series answer questions about certain facets of a team – but this riddle-wrapped-up-in-an-enigma showdown with TCU not only left unanswered questions, but raised new ones. (Who will be the reliable set-up relievers so the starting pitcher doesn’t have to stay in to hand the ball to the closer? When will Ivory be back in the line-up? Is everything okay with Grahamm Wiest? Has Keegan Dale played himself ahead of Anthony Trajano and Matt Chapman at shortstop? Does Michael belong in the leadoff spot in the batting order? How can we cut down on the runners left on base – 29 in the three games against TCU?)

It’s baseball. It’s what makes us so happy when it works out and spitting nails when it doesn’t. It’s what makes us wake up in the morning and read the box scores and try to figure out the unfigurable. Friday’s idiot is Saturday’s genius. Isn’t it amazing how smart somebody can become overnight?

It’s baseball. And it’s a very long season. Considering the lack of mound experience and the quality of the competition (e.g., opening series at #1 Florida Gators and home against the always-tough TCU Horned Frogs, a 3-3 record is more than respectable. Even in the losses, the Titans have played competitively and there were numerous positive signs. (I thought they played better in the two losses at UF than in the Sunday win over TCU.)

I like how the young players are getting an early opportunity to play. It figured that the ‘true’ freshmen J.D. Davis, Matt Chapman, Koby Gauna, Jose Cardona and Kenny Matthews would get a lot of playing time, but I’m glad to get an earlier-than-expected look at Jesse Jenner, Austin Diemer, Tyler Peitzmeier and Willie Kuhl. So far, 26 players have appeared in at least one of the six games played against top flight Division 1 competition. The experience this young roster is getting will pay huge dividends down the road.

Just a reminder: arrangements are being made for a bus trip for fans to go see their beloved Titans take on the USC Trojans at Dedeaux Field in Los Angeles next Tuesday, March 6th. The bus will depart at 4:00 p.m. sharp from the parking lot of Brian’s Beer & Billiards, 1944 N. Placentia Avenue, Fullerton CA 92831. Price details will be announced later this week – contact Kellie Newman to make your reservations (knewman@fullerton.edu).

It saddens me to say something you haven’t heard me say in three years: I won’t see you at the USC game next week. A business trip to Cleveland will end my consecutive games streak at 183, dating back to the last regular season or playoff game I missed (home or away), a mid-week game at Texas A&M on Tuesday, March 10, 2009. (I’m still bitter about missing that one, which occurred during a red-hot stretch when the Titans stormed through Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma. The original schedule was released with the team coming home from Hattiesburg, MS to play Pepperdine at home that Tuesday before flying back out to Stillwater, OK, so I made my travel plans accordingly. By the time they added the A&M game to the schedule, I had already made other business commitments that could not be altered.)

Lastly, you’ve heard the “Fear the Beard” rallying cry that helped propel the San Francisco Giants to their World Series championship in 2010? Get ready for “Beware the Deacon’s Moustache.” As Jared Deacon continues his recuperation from the elbow surgery he had in late December, he has grown a moustache that has not only become the envy of his teammates, but helped the Titans rally to win on Saturday night and has become the source of good luck for the Titans.

  • Photos 1: Teammates check out Jared Deacon's moustache
  • Photo 2: Michael Lorenzen breaks out of his slump in Game 3
  • Photo 3: Keegan Dale's key double in the 8th seals Game 3 win
  • Complete photo gallery


Comedian • Writer • American said...

Great read, thank you for this.

Coeus said...

Don, the obvious solution is to retire before the USC game. You can't just throw away a 183-game streak like that.

You owe it to yourself, now that you're closing in on the century mark and all.

DonSectionK said...

Thanks, Coeus - I've given that some thought. Baseball lore includes a mysterious power failure that caused an Orioles game to be cancelled in 1997 the day that Cal Ripken, Jr. ALLEGEDLY came home and found his wife in bed with Kevin Costner. Ripken was too distraught to play and his streak would have ended - what a coincidence that an electrical failure all around the ballpark caused the game to be cancelled and the streak continued. If there is an electrical failure at USC like the one last year at UCLA and a few years ago at Blair Field, you'll know why.

TitaNation89 said...

Great write-up, Don!

To answer one of your question: Lorenzen is better with folks on base. He is a great clutch hitter, but hasn’t led off games or innings well, so far. Moving him back in the line-up solves two problems (getting him on base and reducing the number of Titans left on base). IMO

In addition, some extra Sacrifice Bunting practice will go a long way, too. Two double-plays after two failed bunts is two too many. It is very un Titan-like to fail at the fundamentals. Doing fine in the stolen bases category, though. If Hook can’t count on players to get the bunts down, then he should take his chances stealing bases in traditional sacrifice situations (again, in my humble opinion).