Late-Inning Drama Turns UCLA's Way in Game One of Series

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Friday's 8-7 loss to No. 10 UCLA was, to quote catcher Chadd Krist, "a shot to the heart." It's important that the Cal baseball team collectively moves on by Saturday afternoon, though. With six games left in the regular season, the Bears -- having dropped nine of 13 -- still are not locks for the NCAA tournament.

"If we want to go to regionals, we need to win now," Krist said. "To lose a game that should have been ours is a tough blow."

Especially tough because pitching and defense, the facets of the game that have gotten this young team to the brink of the tournament, were what came undone in the final innings. Cal squandered one-run leads in both the eighth and ninth innings at Evans Diamond, falling to 27-20 (11-11 in the Pac-10).

Second baseman Brian Guinn and center fielder Chad Bunting -- who both made sparkling defensive plays earlier in the game -- committed a pair of costly errors. Coach David Esquer's decision to use Justin Jones in relief had little effect other than to push Jones' start this weekend back to Sunday.

And the emotional high from Marcus Semien's two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth, which put the Bears up 7-5, vanished on the heels of the Bruins' stunning three-run ninth. Cal went quietly in the bottom of the inning -- an anticlimactic ending to arguably the season's most dramatic game.

"Our team, we're developing some thick skin," Esquer said. "These are some tough ballgames."

One strike away from a 7-5 victory in the top of the ninth, Matt Flemer gave up an infield single to Beau Amaral, which closed the lead to one and gave UCLA (39-11, 14-8) runners on first and third with two outs.

Tyler Rahmatulla then singled softly to right-center field. Bunting, Guinn and right fielder Danny Oh all converged on the ball, but Bunting accidentally kicked it away and nobody hurried to get the ball in. Meanwhile, Amaral scored the eventual game-winning run all the way from first base.

As he walked back to center field, Bunting held his hands over his head in disbelief.

"After we got to two outs, we felt good," shortstop Marcus Semien said. "We got to two strikes, and they just put the bat on the ball. We just couldn't make the play in the outfield, get the ball in."

The inning took away Semien's hero status. With two outs and a full count in the eighth, Semien turned on a high fastball from the Bruins' Dan Klein and deposited it just over the wall in left field, setting off a frenzy in Cal's dugout.

The Bears had lost a 4-3 lead in the previous half-inning. Acknowledging the significance of a possible Friday win over UCLA, Esquer decided to "commit to going for it" by bringing in Jones to relieve Erik Johnson. The freshman left-hander walked the leadoff batter Amaral, who came around to score when Cal made two errors on the next play.

Guinn tried to start a tough double play with his momentum taking him away from second base, and his throw skipped into left field. Defensive replacement Dwight Tanaka ran right past the ball and let Amaral score all the way from first -- again.

"We always find a way to make a defensive mistake in a clutch situation," Krist said. "The way our defense played today was unbelievable -- we made some amazing plays. ... When you make errors you're going to lose. We made more errors, we lost."

Jones faced only three batters and threw 15 pitches, but it was enough to ensure that he will not make his regular Saturday start. Esquer said that Dixon Anderson will start in his place.

All the late drama push ed the Bears' offensive success against UCLA starter Gerrit Cole into the background. Cole forgot his jersey in Los Angeles -- he wore No. 37 instead of his usual No. 12 -- but he remembered to bring his typical stuff, hitting 98 miles per hour with his fastball several times and consistently running his slider up to 90 MPH. He finished the seventh inning by striking out Mark Canha on a 97 MPH fastball at the letters.

But Cal tagged Cole for five runs on nine hits in 7 1/3 innings and, until the roller-coaster eighth inning, Cole was on the hook for only his third loss of the season.

Instead, both he and Johnson took no-decisions. Johnson overcame some periodic wildness to go seven innings, allowing three runs on eight hits. Flemer wore his third loss of the season and saw his ERA jump to 5.06.

It was the bottom of the Bears' order that did the most damage. Devin Rodriguez, Bunting and Semien -- the sixth, seventh and eighth hitters -- were a combined 8-for-11 and drove in all seven of Cal's runs, while the 1-2-3 hitters went 1-for-15 with five strikeouts. Rodriguez, Bunting and Semien had consecutive extra-base hits in the fourth inning to put the Bears up 4-3.

The only other Cal batter with multiple hits was third baseman Tony Renda, who was back to the cleanup spot after spending a few series batting leadoff and who continues to show that he will hit no matter where he is placed in the lineup. Renda overtook Canha for the team's best batting average, raising his to .351.

Tags: CAL BASEBALL, DAVID ESQUER, MARCUS SEMIEN, ERIK JOHNSON, TONY RENDA, CHAD BUNTING


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]



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