Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Westwood Ho! Titans Keep On Truckin'

Titans at UCLA: Won 9-6 (Tuesday)

By Don Hudson

Cal State Fullerton Titans 9, UCLA Bruins 6

- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of clutch hitting, it was the age of foolish plays, it was the epoch of great pitching, it was the epoch of throwing woes, it was the season of fist bumps and high-fives, it was the season of F-bombs and glazed stares, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

But despite a roller-coaster ride in which the Titans played great for half the game and did their best Pacific impersonation in the latter innings – they won!

The Cal State Fullerton Titans did what no team had done since the 2011 season: they beat the UCLA Bruins in a midweek game.  The Bruins entered the game having won 14 consecutive midweek games (11-0 in 2012 and 3-0 this year) and had won 12 consecutive games against Big West Conference opponents dating back to last season.  The Bruins are ranked #10 by Baseball America, so a road victory for the Titans is good for their resume and RPI.

Baum, Hutting both know Davis was safe
The Titans continued their first-inning mastery – with two quick runs against the Bruins, the Titans hold a 37-6 advantage this season in first-inning action.  Pedroza led off with a four-pitch walk against UCLA starter Cody Poteet (now 1-3) and scored on an opposite-field double by designated hitter J.D. Davis.  Lorenzen followed with a single to rightfield, with Davis getting home just under the tag to make it 2-0.

Titans’ starter Willie Kuhl gave up a second-inning run on a walk, a sacrifice and an RBI single by Trent Chatterton.  The Bruins turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead when shortstop Pat Valaika drove a two-out 0-2 pitch over the leftfield wall for a two-run homer that drove Kuhl from the game.  Tyler Peitzmeier came in and broke the Bruins’ momentum with a strikeout.

The Titans quickly reclaimed the lead with two runs on some heads-up play and effective two-strike hitting.  Lorenzen led off with a single and induced a balk call with Anthony Hutting at the plate.  But as soon as Hutting heard Blue yell “Balk!”, he swung at the pitch and slammed a single to rightfield, with Lorenzen easily making it to third.  It was a great “nothing to lose play” that the Titans have successfully executed several times this season: the offense has the choice of taking the balk or the outcome of the play, so there is absolutely nothing to lose by swinging at the pitch.

A wild pitch scored Lorenzen to tie the score, 3-3, with Hutting advancing to second.  Jake Jefferies hit a 2-2 pitch for a flyball that allowed Hutting to advance to third, where he scored on an RBI groundout by catcher Jared Deacon.

Another big night for Lorenzen
After an easy 1-2-3 inning by Peitzmeier, the Titans added another run in the top of the fifth to stretch their lead to 5-3.  Lopez lifted a routine flyball to rightfield, but it was quickly apparent that UCLA’s Eric Filia lost the ball when it went above the lights in that difficult “high sky” period at the intersection of dusk and darkness.  It fell harmlessly around five feet away from Filia, with Lopez hugging second with a double.  Davis drove in Lopez with an RBI single.

Peitzmeier retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the sixth, but then gave up a double.  He induced a slow grounder to second-base that should have ended the inning, but it was booted by Jefferies and the inning was extended, bringing the dangerous right-handed-hitting Valaika to the plate representing the go-ahead run.   The Titans opted for righty Koby Gauna, who induced a grounder to Jefferies, who easily made the play to escape with no harm.

The Titans jumped on relievers James Kaprielian and Ryan Deeter for four runs in the top of the sixth to take a commanding 9-3 lead.  Most of the damage came with two outs.  With Deacon aboard via a walk, Keegan Dale reached with two outs on an error when he bunted and pitcher Kaprielian threw wildly to first.  Pedroza walked after a nine-pitch battle to load the bases for Lopez, who also battled hard with Kaprielian.  Lopez won the battle, ripping the eighth pitch through the vacated shortstop hole for a two-run single to make it 7-3.

The hit by Lopez brought Deeter and his herky-jerky motion from the bullpen.  He walked Davis to load the bases for Lorenzen, who slammed a two-run single to make it 9-3.  Deeter got Lorenzen to chase a couple breaking balls but then tried to throw a fast ball by him, which lately has been like trying to throw a pork chop past a hungry wolf.

I wish the story ended here – but we are about to come to the worst of times.

The leadoff batter in the bottom of the sixth hit a grounder to Dale, who threw high to first.  Lopez jumped high to snare the throw and adroitly got his feet on the bag just ahead of the batter – but it was a portent of bad throws to come.  The next batter hit a virtually identical grounder to Dale, who overcompensated for his previous high throw with a low throw in the dirt for an error.

The next batter gave the Titans exactly what they were hoping for – a one-hopper back to the mound for a likely inning-ending double-play.  Gauna fielded it cleanly, saw Pedroza coming across the bag – and then threw the ball over his head.  Jefferies was backing up the play but was probably screened by Pedroza and the runner and he didn’t see the ball until it hit him in the face.  He went down immediately and had to come out of the game.

It gets even stranger.  With one out and runners at the corners, the next batter hits a groundball to first-baseman Lopez, who attempts to start a 3-6-3 double-play to get out of the inning.  But his throw to Pedroza is wide of the bag – Blue rules the runner safe at second, but the return throw to first retired the batter while the runner from third scored to make it 9-4.  When Gauna struck out the next batter to retire the side, I was actually feeling pretty good:  “Four bad throws and we gave up only one run – it could have been a lot worse and we’ll never play that sloppy again.”

At least that’s what we hoped.

In the bottom of the seventh, UCLA’s speedy leadoff hitter, Brian Carroll, hit a high chopper that just eluded Gauna for an infield single.  It was the 23rd consecutive game that Carroll reached base. Even though they were trailing by four runs late, the Bruins called for a run-and-hit play, with Carroll moving on the pitch.  The batter hit an easy grounder to Dale, who had shifted to second-base when Jefferies left with injury.  Perhaps not realizing the runner was going, Dale eschewed the easy out at first and flipped the ball to Pedroza covering second, who had no play on Carroll.

The next batter hit a slow hopper to third-baseman Matt Chapman.  With all the recent calamity, Chapman took the sure out at first, putting runners at second and third with one out.  Valaika came up and lined the ball hard to centerfielder Lorenzen.  The runner at second apparently misread the flight of the ball and took off on contact and was almost to third-base when Lorenzen caught the ball.  He would have been easily retired with a good throw, but Lorenzen made an overthrow and the runner got back to second as the runner on third tagged up and scored to make it 9-5.  The play was ruled an error on Lorenzen and no RBI for Valaika: a justifiable and good scoring determination, but it could just as easily have been ruled a sacrifice fly for Valaika.

By now the Titans fans are looking on in disbelief and Hooky is apoplectic in the dugout.
It didn’t get much better.  The Titans had Lorenzen on third with one out in the top of the eighth on a single, stolen base and wild pitch, but reliever Zack Weiss struck out the next two to strand him.

Davis replaced Gauna in the bottom of the eighth and quickly retired the first two Bruins he faced before giving up an opposite-field double to Chatterton.  Davis got a pinch-hitter to hit a groundball to shortstop for what should have retired the side, but Pedroza’s throw was in the dirt for an error that allowed Chatterton to score to make it 9-6.  Pedroza cleanly fielded the next groundball and threw flawlessly across the diamond to shut the door.

The Titans could not score in the ninth against lefty reliever Grant Watson – who was a midweek nemesis last year against the Titans – despite a walk to Deacon and single by Pedroza.

Lorenzen came in to nail down his ninth save and struck out the first hitter with his Linda Ronstadt fastball (e.g. Blue Bayou).  After a groundout to Dale, Lorenzen struck out Valaika on three pitches to end it.

Peitzmeier (2-0) got the win with two scoreless innings of relief, with the save to Lorenzen, who also led the offense with four hits, three RBI and two stolen bases.  Ten of the Titans’ twelve hits came from the top four in the batting order: Pedroza, Lopez and Davis with two each and Lorenzen with his four.  Deacon also chipped in with three of the eight walks the Titans had.


Did we learn anything last night?

We learned that this Titans team is talented enough to win even when playing miserably for portions of a game: it was the second time this year they committed five errors and won.  (It happened earlier against Nebraska.)

It took until the 27th game for a Titan to notch four hits in a game – now it has happened three straight games: Jefferies and Pedroza against Pacific and Lorenzen last night against UCLA.  Lorenzen extended his hitting streak to thirteen games.

Hook enters Savage Nation
The pitching was outstanding for the Titans, with relievers Peitzmeier, Gauna, Davis and Lorenzen combining for 6-1/3 innings, allowing just three hits and zero earned runs.  Kuhl was so-so in his first career start – recognition of his recent outstanding work against Oral Roberts, Nebraska and Long Beach State.  He made a lot of good pitches but made one big mistake, leaving a 0-2 pitch up against the dangerous Valaika, rather than bouncing it in like Dick Weber.

A key difference in how the Titans were able to overcome five errors and still win:  Fullerton pitchers issued just one walk, while UCLA gave away eight free passes.

When Valaika hit his home run, it gave Titan fans a sinking feeling of déjà vu all over again when we lost a lead at JRS on a blast by a middle infielder.  But as they have done throughout this magical season, the Titans quickly and powerfully counter-punched.  They may get behind, but they don’t get down.

Do you know how home stadiums often play dumb song snippets whenever an opposing pitcher gives up a walk or is taken out of the game?  UCLA starter Poteet had to know it wasn’t his night when he walked Pedroza on four pitches and the press box mistakenly played one of those cuts. (I think it was Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way”, but somebody yanked it abruptly.  Too funny – the home pitcher being mocked by his own press box.)

When Jefferies was being escorted from the field by trainer Chris Mumaw, all sorts of thoughts were going through my head about how he would be replaced with the Titans already shorthanded in the infield because of injuries to Matt Orloff and Matt Chapman.  Do you bring in Davis to play third, lose the DH and move Dale to second?  Nah – with Kuhl, Peitzmeier and Gauna already having pitched, you know they will need Davis as a bridge somewhere between the sixth inning (when the injury occurred) and the ninth (with closer Lorenzen available).  How about Greg Velazquez, who has been taking infield the past few games at third-base?

It was a pleasant surprise to see Matt Chapman bolt from the dugout and take over at third-base.  In his haste to enter the game, Chappy didn’t warm up on the sidelines and the plate umpire denied Hooky’s request to allow him to play catch a little bit once he took the field.  He didn’t get a hit, but the first pitch thrown to Chappy landed somewhere in Brentwood – a very long foul ball.

It seems like every arm that came out of the Bruins’ bullpen was more impressive than the next.  They continue to recruit great depth of big arms that throw in the 92 mph range.  The post-game ERA of each reliever the Titans faced last night:  James Kaprielian (2.57), Max Schuh (0.00), Ryan Deeter (1.64), Zack Weiss (2.93) and old nemesis, lefty Grant Watson (2.30).  Nine runs against this team is far more impressive than 25 against the University of the Pacific.

We saw the new video scoreboard installed last winter at Jackie Robinson Stadium for the first time – very impressive!  The 15HD pixel screen measures 17’ by 49’ – I want one for my den.  They are still in their infancy in terms of utilization of the technology, but I expect them to rapidly ascend through a learning curve, just as they did at Goodwin Field, where the scoreboard images and information keeps getting better and better.

The time of game was 3 hours and 46 minutes – the fastest game I ever recall seeing between these two heavyweights.  There is a large, bright digital time display in the UCLA dugout at the renovated stadium, so it erases doubt that “The Sheriff” is unaware of how his team is manipulating the game’s pace.  It bothers many; I just think it’s good baseball when you can annoy your opponents and get under their skin.

If you tried the Teenie-Weenies last night ($1 Tuesday night special), you learned that 3,275 calories (3,272 from fat) and 2,158 mg of sodium never tasted so good.  For a buck, I expected there might be 3-4 little hot dog links in a Styrofoam cup with a dab of barbeque sauce on top, but much to my delight, there were probably twenty of those little suckers bathing in a pool of heavenly nectar.

But JRS has a concession policy that I hope doesn’t spread elsewhere: they have signs advising “In order to maintain our low prices, we do not provide lids or straws for beverages.”  Getting a tray of hot or cold beverages back to your seats is an adventure.  But they also don’t provide a fork or even a toothpick to extract the Teenie-Weenies from the pool of heavenly nectar.  I didn’t mind at all getting my fingers and clothing doused in heavenly nectar, but I just didn’t see it as a ‘Westwood thing’ to be scooping greasy little hot dogs out of a vat of greasy sauce with your exposed pinkies.

Overall, it was a nice win.  I imagine the boys will be working extra hard at practice in preparation for the trip to Davis.  It would be a perfect weekend if we could come home with a sweep and nobody Tasered by UC Davis campus police.  Hope to see you there.

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