Backup Catcher Homers Twice To Boost Bears Over Bulldogs





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With John Baker getting a day off to rest his injured thumb, backup Chris Grossman didn't look much like the ideal No. 5 hitter going into yesterday's contest against Fresno State. But that may be why Cal's David Esquer is the reigning Pac-10 coach of the year.

Grossman, batting .233 with two RBIs heading into the game, smacked two long home runs and drove in five to lead the Bears to a 9-2 win over the Bulldogs at a cold Evans Diamond.

"When I got to the ballpark, I didn't even think I was playing today," Grossman said.

But Esquer's gamble paid off.

"I don't think I've ever hit two homers in a game in my life," added the sophomore catcher. "But I've been seeing the ball really well lately."

Fresno (20-20) scratched out a run on three singles off starter Joe Todoroff in the second. It took two batters for Cal to gain the lead for good in the bottom of the inning. After Conor Jackson walked, Grossman smashed an 0-1 fastball from Francisco Nieves over the left field wall to give the Bears a 2-1 advantage.

"It was good that we could give (Baker) a day off and someone would step up and play the position," Esquer said.

Nieves tired in the sixth, allowing a leadoff double to David Weiner and a sharp single to Carson White. Nieves was relieved by the Bulldogs top starter, Bob Runyon.

Runyon was ineffective, to say the least. Weiner scored on a wild pitch, then Jackson hit his 12th home run of the season to make it 5-1. Jackson moved into second in the Pac-10 in that category, trailing just Adam Berry of UCLA, who has 14.

Leading 6-1 entering the seventh, the Bears tacked on three more to put the game out of reach. Weiner walked, White singled and Grossman cleared the fence in left-center to push the margin to eight.

This was all enough for the Bears (23-18) pitching-by-committee on this day. After Todoroff went the first two innings, four relievers combined on seven innings of five-hit, no-earned run baseball. Matt Payne garnered his third win of the season, allowing just one hit in his three innings on the mound.

"All the pitchers were solid today, from Todoroff on," Esquer said.

The Bears need this type of effort from their relievers when ace Trevor Hutchinson or workhorse Brian Montalbo do not take the start.

"It's great when I can pick up Trevor and get a win, because he's the guy that we all look up to," Payne said.

With his effort, the reliever now has lowered his ERA to 2.93, even lower than the 3.09 posted by the All-America candidate Hutchinson.

Weiner and White had three hits apiece to pace the 13-hit attack for the Bears. The win was a big one as it should give Cal confidence heading down to Tempe to face conference-leading Arizona State this weekend.

The bats will have to be alive in this three-game set, as the Sun Devils' pitchers lead the conference in batting average against and strikeouts by a wide margin.

"Different guys have been coming through for us every game, and we'll need that this weekend" Grossman said. Yesterday, it was him.

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