The pitching match-up featured the Titans' freshman Noe Ramirez against the Gauchos' lefty Mario Hollands, who last season held Fullerton to their lowest hit total (4) of 2008 in pitching a complete game win.
After a scoreless first inning, UCSB got a solid leadoff single in the second inning by DH Ryan Cavan, which was followed by a line shot single to centerfield by Matt Valaika. Cavan headed towards third - one of those plays you make it 99.99% of the time - but was cut down on a perfect throw from Josh Fellhauer.
After Noe threw a sharp 1-2-3 third inning, the Titans had a chance to break the game open. Gary Brown drove a base hit into right-centerfield and turned it into a double when his afterburners kicked in somewhere between first and second. Jared Clark then lifted a long two-out home run to left field, giving the Titans a 3-0 lead.
The inning was just getting interesting. After serving up the gopher ball to Clark, Holland walked Davis on four pitches and hit Garneau with a pitch (again). With an 0-1 count to Harkey, the Titans forced action by having Garneau attempt to steal second base. The pitch was low and outside and Harkey did what he was supposed to do: swing at it to protect the runner. He had to reach pretty far across the plate and certainly did not intentionally interfere with catcher Marty Mullins' throw, which ended up going back to the pitcher with Garneau uncontested at second. But plate umpire Larry Randall immediately ruled Harkey out for batter's interference. (Not that it matters, but I was watching the game with a good friend that has no rooting interest for either CSUF or UCSB and has watched so much baseball that he was wearing a Houston Colt .45s hat. Before Randall even made a call, my buddy said, "That's interference.) It was an unusual judgment call, but from where I sat not an unreasonable judgment call.
From there, multiple embroglios erupted. Coach Dave Serrano came out and vehemently - but civilly - debated the call with Randall. No problem there. But third base umpire Phil Benson seemed to go out of his way to escalate the debate with Coach Bergeron as he followed Bergy back to the dugout, jawing away like a jackass. It wasn't Benson's call and he had nothing to do with the discussion about the call, but he chose to insert himself into the situation instead of stepping back and letting Randall and Serrano handle it. As Benson stood at the lip of the Titans dugout baiting an argument, he got what he was looking for from Coach Sergio Brown. Heated words were exchanged and Benson gave Sergio the heave-ho without Brown having even stepped onto the field. At that point, Brown became enraged and went face-to-face with Benson. It was as angry as I've seen a coach/umpire argument get in a long time at the collegiate level.
The Gauchos scored an unearned run in the fourth inning to cut their deficit to 3-1. Eric Oliver doubled, advanced on a groundout and scored on a two-out error by 3B Joey Siddons.
After getting off the ropes in the third inning, Hollands settled into a groove with his mid-80's fastball, generally off the plate but tantalizing enough to take a hack at. From the fourth through the eigth innings, the Titans managed no runs and just one hit off Hollands.
Meanwhile, the Gauchos fought back and eventually took the lead. They scored their second run in the fifth inning on a double by Shane Carlson, a sacrifice and a groundout. They scored two runs in the sixth to take a 4-3 lead: one earned and one unearned. Brian Gump singled and scored when Cavan laced a triple over the head of RF Gary Brown, who was positioned pretty far in. With the score tied, the Titans played their infield "half way." Matt Valaika hit a bouncer to Colon's backhand, which he attempted to throw home before gaining control of the ball and bobbled the ball.
Give credit to Noe Ramirez and Nick Ramirez for strong scoreless pitching the final three innings to keep the Titans' deficit at just one run. Noe pitched into the ninth inning, when he was relieved after surrendering a one-out double. Nick retired the two batters he faced.
Trailing 4-3, Billy Marcoe pinch-hit (for Joe Scott) to open the ninth inning and drew a four-pitch walk. After Jeff Newman was brought in as a pinch-runner, Joey Siddons' attempted sacrifice bunt in front of the plate was so good that he beat it out to put the potential winning run on base. This ended Hollands' evening, as he was replaced by Zachary Samuels.
Christian Colon successfully bunted both runners into scoring position, which brought up Gary Brown, with first base open and his run meaning nothing. But do you have your righty reliever walk the right-handed hitting Brown to set up a double-play situation against left-handed hitting Fellhauer, the Titans' top hitter? That is what makes baseball so great and makes guys like Gaucho skipper Bob Brontsema look much older than his actual age of 35.
The Gauchos played by "the book" and walked Brown to set up a possible game-ending double-play situation. But Felly tore up the book when he smashed a 1-0 pitch into rightfield for a basehit. As they have all series, the weak-armed Gaucho outfielders were playing with one foot on the warning track and RF John DeAlba's bobble of the ball was irrelevant: Newman and Siddons came around to score and the Titans poured out of the dugout to mob Felly as if it was a Super Regionals clincher. It was a very stirring and emotional victory for the Titans.
So what did we learn here last night?
The "infield fly rule" is designed to protect the offense against the defense intentionally allowing a pop fly to be dropped when there are either two or three base runners subject to force outs, which would result in an easy double-play (or possible even triple-play if the bases were loaded with no outs.) The determining factor is that "a fair fly ball (not including a line drive or an attempted bunt) that can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort." It is a judgment call based on whether the ball can be played routinely by an infielder, not whether the ball is in the infield. (In fact, the Umpire's Case Book says, "On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could have ordinarily been handled by an infielder, not by by some arbitrary limit such as the grass, or the baselines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire's judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no case to be considered an appeal play. The umpire's judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately."
This rule came to bear when the Titans had runners on first and second and one out in the fifth inning. Khris Davis hit a major league pop-up that SS Shane Carlson camped under in the grass just behind the infield in short centerfield. As soon as he camped under it, all three umpires indicated the infield fly rule - which was an obvious and correct call. Perhaps hoping to catch the umpires or Titans napping - or both - Carlson "dropped" the ball and quickly picked it up to start what he hoped would be a coy double-play. The umpires protected the home team, yet got lambasted by the home fans - go figure.
Noe Ramirez pitched another strong game and deserved better than a 'no decision.' In his 8 1/3 inning outing, Noe allowed just two earned runs, nine hits and no walks. Of the 113 pitches, 82 were for strikes.
The Titans managed just seven hits last night, with Brown (2) the only player with more than one. But the clutch hits by upper classmen Clark and Fellhauer were enought to carry the game.
The Titans seem to be settling into their stretch drive roles and assignments. The biggest question mark offensively seems to be the choice of right-handed hitting DH/OF. Billy Marcoe is hitting .340 and seems to produce a quality at-bat just about every time he comes up, but do you risk DH-ing your only experienced backup catcher?
Let's all get behind Tyler Pill and the Titans this afternoon as they go for the series sweep at Goodwin Field. It's funny: we went 8-1 on the southern trip and felt invincible. The team is on an 8-1 run now and everybody seems to still be walking on eggshells. A good week this week, starting with a win over the Gauchos today, would go a long way to restore confidence, which is as important as any physical skill in baseball.