Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Riding a Long Way for Another Sweep

Titans at UC Davis: Won 3-0 (Friday), 4-2 (Saturday), 5-2 (Sunday)

By Don Hudson

DAVIS - The Cal State Fullerton Titans continued their road success (now 16-1) by sweeping the UC Davis Aggies at Dobbins Baseball Stadium in Davis, CA.  The Titans improved their overall record to 28-4 and 6-0 in the Big West Conference.  They are currently on a seven-game winning streak, having already had two ten-game winning streaks earlier this season.

Despite the 4-0 week following the sweep of UCD and last Tuesday’s win at UCLA, the Titans remained #4 in the Baseball America rankings (all the big boys had good weeks) and took a little hit in RPI (dropped from fifth to eighth based on weakness of opponent UC Davis.)

Game 1: Titans 3, UC Davis Aggies 0

(Photo Gallery)

On paper, this seemed a pitching mismatch favoring the Titans’ Thomas Eshelman over the Aggies’ junior right-hander Harry Stanwyck, who entered play 3-3 with ERA of 5.70.  But it ended up a very formidable pitching duel, with Eshelman scattering four hits early before locking in and retiring the last fifteen batters he faced in eight shutout innings of mound work.  Stanwyck was nearly as good, especially noting that the Titans’ offensive juggernaut had produced 54 runs in their four previous games.  The Titans worked the pitch count against Stanwyck, who was outstanding for six innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) before leaving after throwing 118 pitches.

The Titans scored an unearned run in the first.  Carlos Lopez hit a one-out sinking line drive to centerfield.  Rather than play it safely and give up a single, UCD outfielder Kevin Barker got caught in “no man’s land” and the ball skipped by him for a triple.  Lopez was retired in a rundown on a “contact play”, with J.D. Davis making it to second-base.  Stanwyck should have been out of the inning when he got Michael Lorenzen to ground to shortstop, but the throw was in the dirt for a run-scoring two-base error by the Aggies’ Tino Lipson.

Hook gets a quick hook
Coach Rick Vanderhook was given a quick hook in the second inning by plate umpire Jeff Henrichs.  (More on that later.)

The Titans’ plate patience produced a run in the top of the third inning to make it a 2-0 lead.  Lopez walked, stole second and went to third when the catcher’s throw went awry.  With two outs, Lorenzen walked and Anthony Hutting was hit by a 1-2 pitch to load the bases.  Matt Chapman walked on four pitches to drive in the run.

Eshelman allowed one hit in each of the first four innings – and then none for the next four innings.  He bends but doesn’t break: it’s hard to remember many times where he has allowed multiple hits in an inning.

The Titans added an insurance run to make it 3-0 in the top of the eighth on a single by Jake Jefferies, a sacrifice by Chad Wallach, an infield single by Austin Diemer and a clutch two-out RBI single by Lopez.

Still walk-less Eshelman
Although Eshelman had thrown just 86 pitches (62 strikes, 24 balls) and retired fifteen straight, closer Michael Lorenzen was summoned to pitch the ninth inning.  It took just four pitches for Lorenzen to post his tenth save of the season, tying him for fifth place with Ted Silva with 26 career saves as a Titan.

The Titans had just seven hits, with two each by Lopez and Diemer.  Lopez also had a walk, an RBI and two stolen bases.  Lorenzen’s 13-game hitting streak was stopped.

Game 2: Titans 4, UC Davis Aggies 2

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The Titans overcame a frustrating afternoon and scored three unearned runs in the top of the ninth for a 4-2 comeback win over the Aggies.  It was the Titans’ first win of the season when trailing after eight innings.

Fullerton’s Justin Garza locked horns in a pitchers’ duel with the Aggies’ Spencer Koopmans, who helped himself with a good defensive play that prevented the Titans from scoring early.  After Pedroza led off the game with a single, Lopez lined a ball back through the box.  Koopmans protected his feet and reached down and snared the line drive and easily doubled Pedroza off first-base.  The double-play was huge, as Davis followed with a single and Lorenzen walked, but both were stranded.

UCD plated the game’s first run in the bottom of the fourth.  Tino Lipson led off with a single to right-centerfield and advanced to second when Lorenzen misplayed the ball.  John Williams promptly drove in Lipson with a RBI-single that looked to me (and probably most onlookers) like a pure “E3”.  Garza got tagged with an earned run when, with better fielding support, the first batter would have been on first and the second would have hit into a double-play.  Baseball.

Meanwhile, Koopmans was allowing few base-runners: he set the Titans down 1-2-3 in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.  In the top of the fifth, Jefferies led off with a single but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

The Aggies added a second run in the bottom of the fifth on a double, single and double-play.

The Titans finally scored in the top of the seventh to reduce their deficit to 2-1, but probably should have had more.  Lorenzen led off and hit the ball hard to the left side and reached on an error by third-baseman Paul Politi.  Koopmans made another good defensive play on a hard hit ball by Hutting on a hit-and-run play, with Lorenzen advancing to second.  After Chapman walked on four pitches, Jefferies delivered an RBI-single to make it 2-1.

Keegan Dale pinch-ran for Jefferies.  (Trailing in the seventh, I found it curious to insert a defensive specialist when that spot in the order would inevitably need to hit again if the team were to come back and win.)

After the hit by Jefferies, UCD brought in “long closer” Max Cordy, perhaps their most effective pitcher this season.  Pinch-hitter Austin Kingsolver hit a chopper towards second-base and appeared to have a good chance to beat it out, but Dale collided with the fielder and was ruled out for interference.

Chapman had come around to score but was required to return to second-base.  Cordy worked out of the jam with no further harm.

The misery continued for the Titans in the eighth inning.  As Garza continued to keep the game close, his offense just couldn’t put up one of the big crooked numbers that we’ve seen so often this season.

Pedroza led off with a single.  With the tying run on base, Lopez squared to bunt and then executed a perfect “slash” play, bouncing the ball over the third-baseman’s head for a single.  Davis failed to bunt on two pitches before hitting a line drive to rightfield.  Pedroza played it halfway, thinking the ball might drop in, and was unable to tag and advance to third after it was caught.

Lorenzen then reached on a fielder’s choice which would have scored Pedroza had he been able to get to third on the previous play.  Hutting was hit by a 0-2 pitch to load the bases, but Cordy again escaped on a foul pop-out by Chapman.

Garza was relieved in the bottom of the eighth by lefty Tyler Peitzmeier after giving up a two-out single.  Peitzy did his job – he got a double-play ball on his second pitch to get out of the inning.

Williamson and Kingsolver
Leading off the ninth, Dale tried to bunt his way on.  Politi charged from third-base and made a great spinning throw to get the first out.

Kingsolver then grounded to shortstop.  King’s speed may have made the shortstop rush his throw, which was low and got past the first-baseman, allowing Kingsolver to reach second.  Clay Williamson was dispatched to pinch-hit for Jared Deacon and he drew a five-pitch walk.

The wheels on the Aggies’ wheel became looser when Cordy uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Kingsolver and Williamson to move into scoring position.

With the infield drawn in, Pedroza delivered a huge two-run single, smashing the ball to the left of the shortstop.  The Titans had turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead and the Aggies’ faces looked ashen.

After Lopez erased Pedroza on a fielder’s choice, he stole second base to get into scoring position.  Lopez is now 12-for-13 on the year in stolen bases.  Davis then crushed a ball over the head of the rightfielder – which is an extraordinary accomplishment the way the wind blows at Dobbins Stadium.  Lopez scored on the double by Davis to give the Titans an insurance run, 4-2.

Lorenzen came in to try for his second save of the series.  He received outstanding support from rightfielder Williamson, who made an UNBELIEVABLE catch of a ball that looked like it would be at least a double if not a home run.  Playing in because of field conditions (wind) and with the ball hit way over his head, Williamson sprinted back and made a great over-the-shoulder grab and held onto the ball when he crashed into the fence with its shanty padding.  Lorenzen got the next hitter to hit a routine flyball to centerfielder Kingsolver to end the game.

Peitzmeier earns 2-pitch win
The Titans got eight hits, all by four players: two each by Pedroza, Lopez, Davis and Jefferies.  Garza was hit somewhat (nine hits allowed in 7-1/3 innings), but he hung tough, kept his team in the game and struck out five without walking anybody.  Peitzmeier (3-0) got the win and Lorenzen notched his eleventh save.

Game 3: Titans 5, UC Davis Aggies  2

(Photo Gallery)

The Titans completed the sweep and extended their current road winning streak to eleven games by jumping out to an early 5-0 lead and then holding on as the Aggies fought hard to battle back.

The Titans looked like their momentum from the Saturday comeback win would carry over as they scored right away on a single by Pedroza, sacrifice by Lopez and RBI-single by Davis.

UCD threatened in the bottom of the first inning with a double and walk off starter Grahamm Wiest, but he worked out of it with two groundballs to end the threat.

The Titans got a double from the resurgent Pedroza leading off the third.  Lopez tried to bunt him to third, but ended up beating it out for a single and advancing to second on a throwing error by the UCD pitcher.  Pedroza scored on the play to make it 2-0.

Davis then hit a ball sharply that shortstop Lipson made a nice backhand stop deep in the hole, but his throw was errant and Davis reached on a two-base error, with Lopez going to third.

Lorenzen with a 3-run homer
Despite strong wind blowing straight in from leftfield, Lorenzen launched his sixth home run of the season to that field, giving the Titans a 5-0 lead and the game had a feeling of a blowout in the making.

But give UC Davis credit for not folding up their tent after the devastating loss the previous day and the quick deficit in this game.  They held the Titans scoreless the rest of the game and had a few mild threats of their own.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Aggies touched up Wiest for a single run on a double, hit-batsman and RBI-single.  Meanwhile the Titans were unable to capitalize on multiple UCD errors: they committed five errors in the game, including one in the seventh and two in the eighth inning.

UCD scored again in the bottom of the eighth on a double, single and double-play to make it 5-2.  With two outs and the bases loaded, Wiest appeared to have escaped, but he hit the next two batters to bring the tying run to the plate.  Exit Wiest, enter Peitzmeier, who struck out Spencer Brann to snuff the rally.

With a three-run lead and Peitzmeier pitching lights-out all season, the Titans opted not to use closer Lorenzen a third straight day.  Peitzmeier struck out the first two hitters and should have had a save when the next batter hot a high flyball to left-centerfield, but the wind and momentary uncertainty allowed the ball to fall between Kingsolver and Lorenzen for a double.  J.D. Davis was brought in and he did his job, retiring the final batter of the game and posting his second save of the game.

Wiest earns another win
Wiest improved his record to 6-1: he is a great advantage over most opponents’ Sunday starters.  He allowed six hits in 7-2/3 innings with just one walk, but he also had three hit-batsmen.

The Titans had ten hits, led by Pedroza with three.  Lorenzen and Wallach had two each, with Lorenzen driving in three runs with his towering home run.


So what did we learn this weekend?

The Titans have swept four consecutive weekend series, beating Oral Roberts, Long Beach State, the University of the Pacific and UC Davis in successive weekend three-game sets.  There were several times during that streak where they could have lapsed and lost, but they always found a way to win.

As much as we all love sweeps, I was even more impressed by the early season weekend series wins against teams from the Big 12 (Texas Christian University), Pac-12 (Oregon) and Southeastern Conference (Texas A&M), although only one (vs. TCU) was a sweep.

Good teams find ways to win when they don’t play their best games – this series demonstrated that truth.  The pitching was stellar throughout, the defense was “okay” and the offense sputtered against a team whose pre-series ERA was 5.27 with an opponent batting average of .303.  Only Lopez (5-for-13 with three runs scored, a double, triple and three stolen bases) and Jefferies (4-for-12) had hits in all three games.  Wallach (3-for-6) had hits in both games he started.  Pedroza went 0-for-5 in the opener but bounced back and went 5-for-13 for the series, including the clutch game-winning hit on Saturday.

The middle-of-the-order hitters (Lorenzen, Davis, Chapman and Hutting) batted a combined 6-for-43 (.140). On Friday, the bunting was horrible.  On Saturday, there were at least three glaring base-running mistakes. The Titans left 30 runners on base in the series – average of ten per game.  Against better competition, those deficiencies might have resulted in losses.  But superior talent and knowing how to overcome adversity has become the trademark of this season so far.

We also learned that Annette Spicuzza, the trigger-happy former UC Davis police chief, has been hired as interim chief of police in the small town of Pacific, Washington.  Spicuzza was suspended following an internal investigation of the pepper-spraying of UC Davis students during a peaceful “Occupy” sit-in demonstration in 2011; she subsequently “retired.”  Pacific mayor Cy Sun, an 84-year-old kook, recently fired the police chief and his lieutenant for harassment and intimidation.  Sun told the local TV station that “he knew Spicuzza’s history and hired her for her experience and expertise.”
Spraying protesters

Davis is a quintessential college town – a great place to hang on a nice spring weekend.  As somebody who attended a college with no emphasis or success in athletics – unless I mention Rensselaer’s two Division I national championships in hockey – I can appreciate a campus whose awareness and interest in intercollegiate athletics was imperceptible.  Walking around campus when I arrived, I asked several students for directions to the baseball stadium. They have no lights at the field, so you can’t use that normal “compass” to find the field when your GPS tries to take you through gates closed to the public or blocked to vehicles.  Not one student could tell me where the baseball field was, but at least a dozen nerds gave explicit directions to a guest lecturer on astronomy and astrophysics later that evening.

The long ride to Davis reinforced my appreciation for the commitment of the parents and other family members from Northern California who make that long drive so often during the season.  I am grumpy and have a sore back for a week following the annual drive to Stockton or Davis, but so many of our most ardent supporters make that journey up to a dozen times a year – my hat is off to you guys!

Eshelman’s phenomenal success has elicited great memories of Wes Roemer’s magical 2006 season when he earned Collegiate Baseball’s Co-National Player of the Year honors.  Similar to Eshelman, Roemer allowed zero walks during his first eight starts that season before his streak ended at 65-2/3 innings when he walked the leadoff man in the sixth inning of his ninth start against Cal State Northridge.

While recognizing that stats need to be interpreted differently in the BBCOR and pre-BBCOR eras (when sophomore Roemer pitched against Stanford, UNLV, UC Irvine, UCLA, Rice, East Carolina, Arizona and Long Beach in 2006), the similarities are interesting: both were amazing.

Here are the stats for each of their first eight starts during their walk-less streaks:

An interesting difference is in hit-batsmen: Eshelman has hit just one batter, while Roemer had 12 in his first eight starts and plunked another for good measure in his ninth start before allowing his first walk.  The HBP was an integral part of Roemer’s pitching make-up: he ended the 2006 season with 23 HBP, seven walks and zero wild pitches in 155 innings pitched.  He was just three shy of the all-time NCAA career record for hit-batsmen.  When a pitcher has a 21:1 ratio of walks to strikeouts and doesn’t throw a single wild pitch, you know he has pinpoint control.

Both remarkably successful, they were very different styles.  If I were to choose one word to describe them, it would be “intimidating” for Roemer and “precision” for Eshelman.  If Wes was Don Drysdale, Thomas has been Greg Maddux.

(Sidebar: thanks to FBF for his archive research.)

I love the stylish backpack look displayed by Titans coaches when banished from games this year by Blue.  The ejection of Vanderhook on Friday by plate umpire Jeff Henrichs was quick and unexpected.  Henrichs was the subject of a great human interest story when he worked at the College World Series last year less than a year after surviving life-threatening blood clots. Very interesting story.
Stylish backpacks

Coaches tend to work the umpires early trying to figure out the limitations of their strike zones.  Example of something you might hear in the first or second inning on a questionable or borderline pitch:  the coach that didn’t get the call might say something from the dugout along the lines of, “Good call.  Is that the bottom of your strike zone?”   Most umpires either ignore it or work with the coach – the earlier both teams understand the umpire’s strike zone, the less complaining there is on ball/strike calls throughout the game.

Henrichs is popular with players and coaches, but he had a short wick that day.  Hooky never left the dugout, but Henrichs shouted at him from around the foul line something along the lines of “Don’t be stupid and get tossed out.”  When Henrichs’ “One more word!” warning drew a reply of “Whatever!”, it became a short day at the office for Hooky.  He was booted without ever stepping on the field to discuss or dispute a call.  Weak sauce, in my opinion.

The Titans swept, the rainy weather forecasted never materialized and nobody got pepper-sprayed: all in all, a very successful weekend.  Let’s keep this thing going Tuesday night at home against USC and this weekend against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.  I hope to see you around the yard.

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