Sunday, April 1, 2012

Titans Can't Quite Finish Off Matadors

By Don Hudson

The Cal State Fullerton began the Big West Conference portion of their 2012 season winning two-out-of-three at home against the Cal State Northridge Matadors, their sixth consecutive weekend series win. After winning the first two games, the Titans encountered their recent downfall inability to complete a potential series sweep. With the loss on Sunday, the Titans (17-10, 2-1) are tied for second place with Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara in the BWC standings, trailing UC Irvine, who swept their series against the University of the Pacific Tigers on the strength of late-inning rallies on Friday and Saturday.

Game 1: “Singles Night at Goodwin Field”

Titans 7, Matadors 2

The Titans continued their recent onslaught of singles, which began with 18 in the series finale at ASU, knocking out 12 hits and coasting to a 7-2 win behind Dylan Floro’s complete game in their BWC opener. Including the final hit of the Tuesday loss at ASU, the Titans extended their streak to 31 singles without an extra-base hit being mixed in, although there were a couple potential doubles on well-hit balls deep in the power allies taken away on good defensive plays by the CSUN outfield.

The Matadors came out swinging the bats well and had an early chance to get to the Titans’ ace. After Ryan Raslowsky and Cal Vogelsang hit two sharp singles to start the game, the third hitter, Adam Berry, ripped a sinking line-drive to leftfield. Outfielder Austin Kingsolver came on and attempted a diving shoestring catch – it was a great effort but the ball squirted to the ground. However, the Titans caught a break when the runner on second, Raslowsky, retreated when it appeared Kingsolver had caught the ball, so Kingsolver was able to throw to third base for the force-out. The batter loses his hit and reaches on a fielder’s choice on a “groundout” from the leftfielder to the third-baseman. Floro struck out the next two batters, sandwiched around a double-steal, to escape with no runs allowed.

The Titans took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when they amassed four hits, stymied again by their recent nemesis, the double-play ball. Richy Pedroza led off with a single that deflected off the pitcher and moved up a base on a subsequent throwing error on a pickoff attempt. Anthony Trajano dropped a soft single into right-centerfield, placing runners at the corner with no outs. Pedroza scored when Michael Lorenzen hit into a double-play. Carlos Lopez then dumped an “excuse me” duck snort single into leftfield. With Lopez running on the pitch, Matt Chapman followed with a screaming base-hit into centerfield. Even with the momentum of his head start on the hit-and-run, Lopez defied the baseball gods and made the third out at third-base, gunned down easily on a perfect throw from CSUN’s Vogelsang.

As is often the case with premier pitchers, they get into a groove and run on auto-pilot if you let them off the hook early. After the first three batters hit the ball hard off Floro, he turned in a virtuoso pitching performance. He retired 16 of 17 batters from the first through sixth innings, including ten straight from the third to the sixth.

The Titans scored their second run in the bottom of the third on a bases-loaded walk to Ivory Thomas, following a walk to Trajano and singles by Lorenzen and Lopez.

In the fourth inning, the Titans put three runs on the board to give Floro some breathing room. The Titans loaded the bases on singles by Chad Wallach and Pedroza and a walk to Lorenzen after a wild pitch. Lopez smashed the ball over the first-base bag for a two-run single. The Matador first-baseman made a good play just to knock it down and prevent it from going down into the corner for what would have been at least a double and put an end to the Titans’ string of singles. Lorenzen scored the third run of the inning on a wild pitch, giving the Titans a 5-0 edge.

The Titans scored again in the sixth. After Wallach led off with a single, Pedroza’s attempted sacrifice turned into something even better – a perfect bunt single. Trajano followed with a “just as good as a bunt” chopper to third-base that advanced both runners, allowing Wallach to be in position to score on Lorenzen’s sacrifice fly. The Titans added the seventh run the next inning when J.D. Davis reached on an error, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on Wallach’s unexpected RBI bunt single.

From that point, the only questions were how far Floro would go and whether the Matadors would break the shutout. Floro came out to pitch the ninth with a five-hit shutout in progress. Floro and the Titans’ defense faltered slightly in the final frame, allowing two runs (one unearned) on two hits. There were two throwing errors in the inning: one by Lorenzen that allowed an extra base and another by Wallach that allowed the second run to score and extended the game after a two-out strikeout that would have ended the singles affair.

Pedroza, Lopez and Wallach had three hits each for the Titans, while Floro improved his record to 4-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.25. It was the second straight game in which Rick Vanderhook occupied his (old) new perch in the third base coach’s box.

Game 2: “Senior Moments”

Titans 8, Matadors 6

With a roster that includes fifteen freshmen, it was two of the seniors who lifted the Titans to a series-clinching win on Saturday night. Converted catcher Dimitri De la Fuente entered the game in relief of freshman Kenny Mathews in the fourth inning and worked out of an inherited jam and earned his first collegiate pitching win with 3-1/3 innings of stellar work. Fellow senior Trajano had four hits and a sacrifice, including – GASP – an extra-base hit that snapped the Titans streak of singles-without-an extra-base-hit-mixed-in at 42.

With Mathews mowing Matadors like a finely trimmed lawn and the Titans’ singles bar open for business in the first three innings, it looked like a certain blowout as CSUF held a commanding 5-0 lead going to the top of the fourth.

In the bottom of the first, Trajano and Lorenzen set the table for Lopez with a pair of one-out singles, with Lorenzen taking second on the throw. Lopez maintained his torrid hitting with a two-run single to leftfield – he is going with pitches where they are thrown and hitting the ball hard all over the field.

The Titans scored an unearned run in the second that was much uglier than it is going to sound. Ivory Thomas reached on an error and then stole second and third base. After Davis scorched a line-drive right at the first-baseman, Kingsolver hit a chopper to third-base with the infield drawn in. Thomas broke for home on the contact play and was caught in a rundown, but he made it safely back to third when the Matadors threw the ball to the fielder who was between Thomas and home, rather than to the base where he was heading. Wallach grounded out to drive in Thomas with an unearned run that made the score 3-0.

Two more runs were plated in the bottom of the third, with help from sloppy Matadors defense. Trajano singled to start the inning and advanced on an errant pickoff throw before scoring on Lorenzen’s RBI single. After Lorenzen went to second on a wild pitch, Lopez surprised the defense with a perfectly placed bunt towards third-base. He easily beat it out for a hit and Lorenzen scored when the third-baseman’s throw went awry.

That’s when the wheels came off the wagon for Mathews and the Titans. With one out, Mathews encountered a streak of wildness, loading the bases on a walk and two hit-batsmen. A two-run double cut the lead to 5-2, followed by a run-permitting passed ball by Wallach, his tenth of the season. The Matadors then executed a safety squeeze to make the score 5-4 with two outs and the bases clear. But Mathews still struggled, giving up a single, a wild pitch and a walk before pitching coach Kirk Saarloos came to the mound for his second trip of the inning, motioning for De la Fuente to enter the game. As he has done impeccably of late, De la Fuente worked out of the predicament, but still there was an uneasy feeling of having to go to your team’s best late inning set-up reliever in the fourth inning. The uneasiness mounted as the Titans wasted two hits in the bottom of the inning, thwarted once again by our nemesis, Mr. Double-Play.

After De la Fuente restored order with a scoreless fifth inning, the Titans gave him a bigger cushion with two runs in the bottom of the frame. Trajano and Lorenzen singled and advanced on a passed ball. Lopez drove in Trajano on a groundout, and Lorenzen scored on an RBI single by Chapman.

De la Fuente completely stilled the turbulent waters he inherited with scoreless sixth and seventh innings.

With two outs in the sixth inning, Trajano laced a double just inside the leftfield line – it was the team’s first extra-base hit since Davis hit a double in the first game at ASU – there were 42 singles in between.

The game seemed to have been completely back in the Titans’ control when they scored a run in the bottom of the seventh on a single and stolen base by Chapman and an RBI single by Thomas.

But the Matadors had one last gasp of life when they got to the tiring De la Fuente in the eighth inning for a leadoff walk and a double that brought freshman Willie Kuhl in from the Titans’ bullpen. Kuhl threw a wild pitch that allowed a run, but he struck out two and escaped with no major damage. The Titans loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth on three walks, but were unable to score.

Leading 8-5 to open the ninth, Kuhl issued a leadoff walk and the Titans, unwilling to bring the tying run to the plate before bringing in their closer, immediately put the ball in the hand of Lorenzen. But after an infield pop-put, Lorenzen was tagged for a triple by Vogelsang that made the score 8-6 and brought the tying run to the plate with just one out. But Lorenzen was equal to the task, getting the second out on a line-drive straight to Trajano and a game-ending strikeout.

Besides Trajano’s four hits, Lorenzen had three hits and earned his tenth save in ten tries. Lopez and Chapman also had two each of the Titans’ fourteen hits.

Game 3: “April Fools”

Matadors 5, Titans 1

For the third consecutive weekend, the Titans were unable to close the deal and complete a home series sweep. The Titans once again allowed a crooked number, which has been their downfall in every loss this season (other than the 1-0 loss to ASU) and were unable to do much with Northridge’s freshman left-hander, Jerry Keel, who pitched a complete game and lowered his already excellent pre-game ERA of 1.62. Keel started the year with control problems, but has been lights out in his last four starts: including today, he has allowed just two earned runs in 26-2/3 innings, walking only six hitters during that span. He also avoided hit batsmen today, which has been a problem for him previously.

The Titans looked like they were on their way to sweep when they scored the game’s first run on a Pedroza walk, a Trajano sacrifice and an RBI single by Lorenzen. The water looked hot for Keel when he fell behind in the count (2-0) against Lopez, the Titans’ leading hitter, but the imposing freshman (6’-6”, 280 pounds) came back with a strikeout and got Chapman to ground out to end the threat.

A big part of Keel’s success this game was shutting down Lopez, who went 0-for-4 and saw his eleven-game hitting streak come to an end.

The Titans’ Grahamm Wiest, who was used Wednesday out of the bullpen at ASU, took the 1-0 lead into the top of the third and got two outs before faltering briefly. With one out, the ninth hitter in the batting order singled and advanced to second on a hit-and-run groundout. Vogelsang singled to leftfield to tie the score and advanced to second when the throw from Thomas was not cut off. I’m guessing that third-baseman Chapman may not have been in the proper position lining up the cutoff, as he got an immediate earful from Vanderhook and was replaced the following inning. A double into the leftfield corner by CSUN’s Barry gave the Matadors a 2-1 lead – the runner would probably not have scored from first, so Vanderhook was spitting nails by then. Miles Williams followed with a two-run blast for the Matadors, making the score 4-1, perhaps making the cutoff play moot, but the damage had been done and the tension was palpable.

The bottom of the fifth inning was symbolic of the frustration and lackluster play for the Titans. Trailing 4-1, Ivory Thomas hit a full-count single to leftfield to open the inning – but left early on a steal attempt and was thrown out, 1-3-6. Davis then singled on an infield pop-up that was lost in the sun, but he inexplicably tried to steal second and was thrown out by a mile – I momentarily thought Bergeron was back calling the plays. The coaches had apparently changed the signs the previous inning and Davis keyed off the wrong indicator and thought it was a sign to steal (from what I heard.) Greg Velazquez followed with a solid single and went to second on an error, but was stranded when Wallach grounded out. It was the best chance the Titans had the rest of the game to make a comeback, but they could not score, despite three hits and an error.

The buttons on Hooky’s straitjacket got even tighter as the game went to the top of the sixth. Wiest struck out the first hitter, but Wallach was unable to block the pitch and the leadoff runner was aboard. After a sacrifice and a strikeout, Wiest appeared out of the inning when he induced a high pop-up that Lopez appeared to be camped under before being called off by Pedroza – and the ball dropped between them and the Matadors had a 5-1 lead.

The Titans managed at least one hit in each of the last three innings, but they couldn’t string together any of those singles that had been so ubiquitous during the previous three games. Matt Orloff stroked a solid base-hit when called upon to replace Davis in the seventh inning. Pedroza and Trajano had consecutive hits in the eighth inning, but Keel rewarded the confidence of his coaches by retiring Lorenzen and Lopez to end the mini-threat. Thomas had the Titans’ lone hit in the ninth inning.

Wiest threw a complete game for the Titans, pitching brilliantly for all but one inning. He allowed nine hits but had no walks, while striking out six. Both teams had nine hits – but the Matadors had the big RBI double and two-run homer, while all nine of the Titans hits were – yes, you guessed it – singles.


So what did we learn this series?

The outfield arms were a factor in the first couple games, sometimes good and sometimes bad. In the Friday opener, the Titans executed the two force-outs from the outfield: Kingsolver to Chapman (7-5) and Lorenzen to Trajano (8-6) – I have never seen that happen twice in the same game. But on the down side, Lorenzen’s aggressive throws to first base to try to catch an unsuspecting batter-runner making a wide turn resulted in late-inning errors in back-to-back games. Not only was an extra base allowed on the errant overthrows, but double-play situations were removed both times. We all cherish the opportunity to see Lorenzen use his incredible arm in spectacular fashion and we’ll all go bonkers when the play works – which I know will happen. When it works it’s called “aggressiveness” and when it doesn’t it’s called “recklessness.”

The work of the bullpen has been sensational, especially with the added burden of not having Christian Coronado and Jose Cardona available. Following the two mid-week games at ASU in which seven pitchers were used, Floro’s complete game victory was critically important to give the bullpen a night off. On Saturday, De la Fuente did an outstanding job relieving Mathews, with good work behind him by Kuhl and Lorenzen. Similar to Floro, Wiest went the distance on Sunday, helping his bullpen be rested for the forthcoming short week when they play four games in five days starting Tuesday.

After starting the season with potent offenses in final games of series, the Titans have managed just three runs combined in the Game 3 losses to Long Beach State (7-2), Oral Roberts (3-0) and Northridge (5-1). In the ORU and CSUN series, both those teams threw their best pitcher in the series finale, as the Titans have scuffled all season against opponents’ top-line pitchers. It’s not a bad strategy for the team that realistically is setting its goal to win at least one game in a series when it is a prohibitive road underdog. Let’s see how UC Davis plays it in the next weekend series.

One of the coolest things ever at Goodwin Field occurred Saturday night. Do you know the in-game contest they have this year where a contestant gets on top of the dugout and are asked a multiple-choice trivia question on the video board, with the question and possible answers read by a Titans player? You know – the one where many contestants don’t even give their answer until after the correct answer has been revealed?

Well, on Saturday, “Liz” was the contestant. She got on top of the dugout, facing the scoreboard to read the question: “LIZ, WILL YOU MARRY ME?” Her boyfriend was behind her, kneeling down with the ring as the question was popped on the video board, to the astonished approval of the crowd. From her reaction and the spit-swapping that ensued, I believe the response was affirmative. I loved Chris Albaugh’s P.A. announcement: “Yes, folks, we have a winner!” - just as he would a normal correctly answered question.

That video board is amazing and the library of software and videos continues to expand. I shudder to think how badly it might have turned out if the dude had proposed on the old scoreboard with all the missing light bulbs.

This weekend was important not only to Liz and her beau, but also to me and anyone else who has ever dabbled in a chemistry lab: It was the 201-year anniversary of the birth of German chemist Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen, the inventor of the Bunsen burner.....In a related story, one of my all-time favorite baseball nicknames applied to a young fast-balling phenom pitcher that came up with the New York Yankees in 1966 named Stan Bahnsen. Arriving in the show with legendary pitching velocity, he was nicknamed “the Bahnsen Burner.” Bahnsen pitched sixteen years in the major leagues, with perhaps his best performance with the Chicago White Sox. He won 21 games for the ChiSox in 1972 and lost 21 games the next season – you need to be an excellent pitcher to lose 20 or more in a season.

It was in an era of the four-man rotation, when Bahnsen started 118 games over a three-year span – that would be unheard of today, especially for a power pitcher. The 1973 White Sox had two 20-game losers – Bahnsen and knuckleballer Wilbur Wood went 24-20, the last time a major league pitcher both won and lost at least 20 games in the same season.

Best wishes to Brad Hull (left), who was honored Sunday in his last game with the Titans after supporting the program in a variety of capacities during the past thirteen years. He is relocating to Oklahoma to take a position with the FAA as a flight controller after recently completing a pair of advanced degrees. You can tell the depth of the feeling for this man when the head coach goes out on the field to catch the ceremonial first pitch and he is hugged by the entire team on his way back from the mound.

So now we start another busy week: a Tuesday evening game at San Diego State and a conference series at home against UC Davis beginning on Thursday (in deference to Easter weekend.) It’s a lot of action in a compressed timeframe – I’ll let Saarloos and Vanderhook figure out how to coax enough effective innings out of the pitching staff. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out the logistics for how to sneak in a stop at Phil’s BBQ in San Diego sometime prior to the game against the Aztecs. Assuming there isn’t likely to be a waiting line there at 3:00 p.m., there should be enough time to be able to get to Tony Gwynn Stadium in time to watch B.P. – sounds like a plan!

Go Titans! Go Phil!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good job as usual Don......RT