Thursday, April 19, 2012

Titans Ride Out Late Waves

By Don Hudson

Pepperdine Waves 010 001 040 - 6 11 3
Cal State Fullerton 000 010 43X - 8 11 1

Dude, this was one strange game.

The official time of game was 2:59 – which is pretty normal. But we were in the seventh inning by 7:30 (game started at 6 o’clock), and I was thinking I might make it home in time to catch a “Law and Order” rerun on Channel 56. That’s when things got out of control: the last two innings took nearly as long to play as the first six-and-a-half, as a 2-1 pitching duel turned into an offensive brawl and a pitching and defense meltdown, as the Titans twice overcame one-run deficits and beat the Pepperdine Waves, 8-6.

By the time we stood up for that time-honored tradition, the fans had been treated to a fast-paced, well-pitched game by Koby Gauna of the Titans and Pepperdine’s crafty lefty, Matt Maurer. To that point, they had each allowed one earned run on five hits, the difference in the game being an unearned run allowed by the Titans. After “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” we saw 11 runs, 11 hits, 3 errors, 3 blown saves, walks, hit-batsmen, wild pitches, passed balls, missed cutoff men and throws to the wrong base – the incongruence of the two juxtaposed hour-and-a-half game segments was shocking.

Pepperdine got on the board first in the second inning with an unearned run. Tony Cooper led off with a bouncer up the middle that Titans’ shortstop Matt Chapman ranged far to his left and made a nice stop, but he had to make an off-balance throw to first, which sailed into the dugout (hit and an error). He went to third on a single up the middle – didn’t dare run on Michael Lorenzen, especially with no outs – and scored on a sacrifice fly. Gauna picked a runner off first to end the inning.

Through three innings, the Titans trailed 1-0 and sent the minimum nine men to the plate. Two reached base (leadoff single by Richy Pedroza in first and walk to Anthony Hutting in the second), but both were erased in double-plays.

The Titans finally got on the board and tied the score in the fourth inning on a single by Pedroza, a sacrifice by Chapman and a two-out RBI double by Lorenzen.

The Waves re-took the lead with a run in the top of the sixth. After Pepperdine’s Austin Davidson doubled, he advanced when Gauna bounced a pitch that was blocked by catcher Chad Wallach but escaped just far enough to go as a wild pitch. The dangerous Joe Sever grounded out to Chapman to give the Waves a 2-1 lead.

Although the Titans’ line-up included just two left-handed hitters (Carlos Lopez and Hutting), the Titans were once against struggling against a crafty lefty, so Coach Rick Vanderhook started pushing buttons in the seventh inning – and the offense came alive.

After Lorenzen struck out to open the seventh inning, right-handed-hitting Greg Velazquez was called upon to pinch-hit for Hutting and he delivered a seed up the middle for a single.

J.D. Davis also ripped a single through the box, which ended the evening for Maurer, who threw 94 pitches. Keegan Dale made his first game appearance in a while, pinch-running for Davis, representing the potential go-ahead run in the event pinch-hitter Ivory Thomas could deliver one of his patented gap shots. Thomas walked to load the bases.

With a right-handed reliever throwing for the Waves, pinch-hitter extraordinaire Clay Williamson was called upon to bat for Austin Diemer. A passed ball allowed Velazquez to score the tying run, after which Williamson was intentionally walked to set up a double-play situation.

Jared Deacon then batted for Wallach – the fourth pinch-hitter of the inning. After a short but intense battle, Deacon roped a two-run single into right-centerfield to give the Titans a 4-2 lead. Pedroza then bounced a seeing-eye grounder through the 3-4 hole to extend the lead to three runs.

Leading 5-2 and with the ball now placed in the hands of the Titans’ vaunted bullpen, it was unfathomable that Pepperdine would come back. I knew I wouldn’t catch “Law and Order,” but it looked good to be home in time to catch “The Berenstain Bears” on Channel 58.

Dimitri De la Fuente came in to face the 8-9-1 Pepperdine hitters in the top of the eighth inning. After hitting the first hitter he faced, he fell behind the next hitter and pitching coach Kirk Saarloos came out for a quick chat. When he walked the #9 hitter, Matt Gelalich, after hitting the #8 hitter, Saarloos came back out again, summoning for Willie Kuhl. (Who says there’s always room for Gelalich?)

This just wasn’t the night for De la Fuente and Kuhl, both of whom have been on an incredible run of great pitching lately. The first pitch thrown by Kuhl was lined softly into leftfield for a base hit that loaded the bases and brought the go-ahead run to the plate. The next batter hit a deep flyball to centerfield, which Lorenzen tracked down near the warning track for a sacrifice fly. Even with Lorenzen’s howitzer arm, there was no chance to retire the runner tagging from second and heading to third, but the throw went to third anyways, allowing the runner from first to tag up and go to second, removing the double-play situation.

It proved moot when Severs took Kuhl deep and over the wall for a three-run blast. Although a second-baseman, Severs has a stocky build more like a catcher – he has arms like legs. Severs was the defending West Coast Conference Player of the Week, having gone 11-for-18 (.611) last week, with 4 runs scored, 4 RBI and a game-winning home run. It was a legit home run by a very legit hitter.

The Titans now shockingly trailed, 6-5, and the Waves were still pounding. There was an infield single followed by a bunt single and the stunned Titans were once again in jeopardy. Side-arming lefty Dave Birosak was called in to face a left-handed hitter, but ended up striking out a right-handed pinch-hitter. Despite trailing, CSUF closer Lorenzen was brought in to get the final out of the inning, a flyball to his replacement in centerfield, Austin Kingsolver.

Now I’m pissed: the Titans have blown a three-run lead and I’m iffy to make it home in time for “The Dick Van Dyke Show” on TV Land. But hope springs eternal in the heart of a die-hard Titans fan.

With their tenuous one-run lead, the Waves gave the ball to two-way freshman star, Aaron Brown, a left-handed pitcher who is tied for the team lead in saves (4) and is second in RBI (24) while batting .267. Coach Steve Rodriguez presumably went to Brown because of the Titans’ recent struggles against left-handed pitching.

The Titans got a break when Lorenzen reached on a two-base throwing error leading off. Something the fans may have noticed: the Pepperdine catcher tossed the ball very lightly back to Brown every time, and the pitcher caught the throws using his bare pitching hand or he trapped it between the back of his glove and his bare hand – it was obvious there was something wrong that he wasn’t using the pocket of his mitt to catch the ball. (Someone later told me he had a thumb injury on his non-pitching hand.)

Velazquez followed and hit his second consecutive seed for a base hit to rightfield that easily scored Lorenzen to tie the score, 6-6, and he advanced to second when the Waves missed the cutoff man. Velazquez moved to third with nobody out on a ball-four wild pitch to Kingsolver. With Anthony Trajano, who had entered the game in the top of the inning at shortstop after all the pinch-hitting substitutions, at the plate, Brown threw a pitch that tipped off the mitt of catcher Miles Silverstein and got behind him. Velazquez broke for the plate, but was a dead duck when the ball didn’t get as far away as it might have initially looked and he was thrown out at home, with pitcher Brown actually blocking the plate. (It’s one of those ‘immediate reaction’ plays. If you stay at third, you’ve got runners at second and third with nobody out after the runner on first advances. But Velazquez had scored on a passed ball the previous inning and the pitcher’s injury that caused him to not catch the ball in his mitt may have factored into the split-second decision to go. Hindsight is 20/20 – but I had no problem with it.)

But as he did so often in 2011, Trajano came through with a huge hit, parachuting a soft flyball that landed just inside the rightfield line, scoring Kingsolver with the go-ahead run. Trajano took an extra base when the ball was mishandled by the outfielder. Williamson then gave the Titans an insurance run with a single to centerfield, making it 8-6. Williamson went to second when Gelalich’s throw to first, trying to catch the runner making a wide turn, was wild an out of play – it was the third error of the inning for the Waves.

Now I’m happy, but thinking about how tired I’m going to feel the next morning. We’ve already had three blown saves in three consecutive half-innings – could it possibly happen again with the flame-throwing Lorenzen on the hill?

Stomachs growled when those pesty #8 and #9 Pepperdine hitters did it again: a double by Silverstein and an infield single by Gelalich on a swing you see all the time in women’s softball, just putting the ball in play and over the pitcher’s head on what looks almost like an attempted swinging drag bunt. First and third, nobody out and the top of the order coming up – can you believe this?

But Lorenzen settled down. He got the next batter to pop up to Pedroza in shallow rightfield, with no opportunity for the runners to advance. He struck out the next hitter, bringing Severs up as the tying run at the plate…but Michael got the better of him and he rolled over a grounder to second to end the game. Whew!

Pedroza led offensively with three hits, while Davis and Velazquez had two each. Lorenzen earned his first career win.

I thought Craig Ferguson was quite funny on Tuesday night.


So what did we learn this game?

First and foremost, this was a great outing for Gauna, who went 7 innings and allowed just two runs (one unearned) on 5 hits, with 4 strikeouts and no walks or hit-batsmen. It was his longest mound stint as a Titan. Gauna has been in a cycle recently of pitching very effectively for five innings and then scuffling in the sixth, often precipitated by a fielding error that opened the floodgates. But with his economy of pitches from allowing just five hits and no walks, Gauna was strong at the end – he had a 1-2-3 seventh inning and left after just 85 pitches.

Did I put the whammy on the Titans bullpen or what? I gushed over their performance after the UCI series and then they had their first meltdown in memory in the eighth inning their next time out. For all the times the pitching staff came through to help the team win games when the offense was struggling, it was nice to see the offense come through on that rare occasion where the pitching lapsed.

The contribution of Birosak is easy to overlook, but shouldn’t be. When he came in, the Waves were thrashing: they had 4 hits – including a three-run bomb – and a warning track flyball against Kuhl just prior to Birosak’s entry, so the strikeout he posted helped stifle the Pepperdine momentum.

I thought it couldn’t get any better in an inning for a coach pushing buttons than it did in the eighth inning rally in the UC Davis series opener. In that game, Hook sent left-handed-hitting Hutting to pinch-hit against an excellent southpaw, Dayne Quist – base hit. He had Diemer pinch-run for Hutting – scored winning run. He had Williamson pinch-hit trailing by a run – two-run single to drive in the tying and winning runs.

But the choices he made in the seventh inning on Tuesday and the way they worked out were incredible. He used four pinch-hitters and a pinch-runner in that inning and they all came through. Including both the seventh and eighth inning rallies, the non-starters went 5-for-6 with 5 RBI, 6 runs scored and 2 walks.

Can you believe there are just two home series left in the regular season for the Titans? If you’ve yet to sign up for membership in the TAC/Diamond Club as a way to help support Titans baseball, their tent along the third-base side will be open throughout this weekend’s series against Cal Poly. There might even be an opportunity to purchase a piece of Goodwin Field history if you didn’t get a piece of the old outfield fence last season. All proceeds go to support Titans baseball.

The Cal State Fullerton Department of Athletics is holding its annual Titan Golf Tournament and Auction on Monday, May 14, at Yorba Linda Country Club. The event helps support student-athletes in all sports. For registration information:

The weather should be great and the games are important as the Titans need to keep pace with those Dirtbags of Long Beach heading towards their Memorial Day weekend clash.

Come on out and support the team.

Go Titans!

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