Delfino, Defense Shine in Shutout

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Mitch Delfino will sleep like a baby tonight.

The Cal baseball team's third baseman was the busiest man in Berkeley on Saturday afternoon, registering eight assists against Washington State as the Bears put together one of their most complete efforts of the season. With a combination of clutch situational hitting, show-stopping defense and shutout pitching, No. 16-ranked Cal topped the Cougars to improve to 2-0 in Pac-10 play.

The Bears (15-5) came into the weekend with the second-worst fielding percentage in the conference, but the glovework from the infield certainly belied that.

"Our fielding percentage was one of the lowest, but we don't play like that," Delfino said. "We make the big plays when they count."

That much was evident early. With two runners on and one out in the first inning, Cal's lefty starter Justin Jones looked to be in a spot of trouble. But shortstop Marcus Semien back-pedaled into left field to snag a pop fly by Derek Jones out of the sky, and Delfino shuttered the inning with a throw from deep in the hole to get Matt Argyropoulos at first.

All told, Washington State (9-9, 0-2 in the Pac-10) stranded seven men on base.

"We had to win the game with defense," coach David Esquer said. "Any mistake at any time would have created an inning for them."

Jones (3-1, 2.34 ERA) struggled from the stretch in the first few innings, but his control got better as the game went on. He struck out seven and got many more to roll over on his cut fastball, with Delfino as the main beneficiary in the assist column. Closer Matt Flemer pitched a perfect top of the ninth to earn his third save of the year.

The team's ERA has improved to 1.90, and it's now been 45 innings since the Bears have given up an earned run.

"Yesterday with Erik Johnson throwing an awesome eight scoreless, I think Jonesy really wanted to come in and throw a shutout too," catcher Chadd Krist said. "They feed off shutouts."

But while defense and pitching stole the show, a few pieces of nifty work at the plate sealed the victory. Cal's first run came in the fourth inning off some very determined baserunning from second baseman Tony Renda.

On the first pitch of the at-bat, Renda doubled. He scampered to third on a shallow flyout to center and, from there, showed his fearlessness.

First baseman Devon Rodriguez flew out to left fielder Brett Jacobs right along the third base line. Without missing a beat, Renda looked Jacobs in the eye, tagged up and beat the off-line relay throw by a mile.

"Tony's got the green light to go when he thinks he can," Esquer said.

Freshman designated hitter Andrew Knapp rounded out the scoring for the Bears, driving in two in the seventh with a single to right. As it turned out, those were just insurance runs.

One was all they needed.

"Doesn't matter the score," Delfino said. "We're in every game till the end, for sure."


Katie Dowd covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected]

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