It took 18 games for California first baseman Devon Rodriguez to slug his first home run of the 2013 season, but after getting his first round-tripper out of the way on Friday night in Salt Lake City, the Big Cat didn't waste any time tallying his second dinger, putting the Bears up 5-0 with a two-out grand slam in the top of the second against Utah en route to a second-straight 9-5 win over the Utes.
Cal (13-7, 2-0 in the Pac-12) won its seventh game in a row and clinched a series victory over Utah (8-8, 0-2), getting a strong five innings from senior lefty Justin Jones, who struck out three and allowed two runs on six hits and no walks, earning his first win of the season and lowering his ERA from 5.12 to 4.81, despite allowing two doubles, one triple and one hit batter. Reliever Dylan Nelson tossed four innings of relieve, allowing three hits, one run and one walk while striking out four.
"The game was much closer than the final score," said head coach David Esquer. "Dylan Nelson did a nice job in relief, and Devon Rodriguez's grand slam gave us some early breathing room. Utah plays hard, and will definitely battle us tough tomorrow."
Junior catcher Andrew Knapp went 1-for-4 on the day with a double, one RBI and a walk, extending his season-high hitting streak to nine games. Seven of the Bears' nine starters registered at least one base hit, with designated hitter Michael Theofanopoulos going 2-for-3 with a run and a double.
As with Friday's contest, Cal benefitted from fielding miscues by the conference's worst defensive squad. The Bears jumped out to a 1-0 lead thanks to a one-out RBI double by Knapp to plate Mike Reuvekamp, and then exploded for four runs in the top of the second. With one down, second baseman Brenden Farney drew a walk from senior righty Joe Pond. Freshman Grant Diede -- getting his second start in left field in place of the injured Brian Celsi -- got the first of his three hits on the day on a single to right to put two on with one out for speedy freshman Devin Pearson.
Pearson sent a groundball to second base, but freshman Kody Davis could not turn the potential inning-ending double play, loading the bases for Reuvekamp, who struck out swinging.
Had Davis even gotten one out on the Pearson grounder, Reuvekamp's K would have ended the inning with no harm done, but instead, Pond faced hot-hitting Rodriguez, who sent a missile over the wall in right center field to bring his team-leading RBI total to 17 on the season.
Pond threw 5.0 innings, dropping to 2-2, with a nine-hit, nine-walk, five-strikeout performance, allowing seven runs (three earned).
The Utes scratched across a run in the bottom of the second on a two-out RBI triple to right off the bat of senior Tyler Relf.
Cal added to its lead with runs in the top of the fourth and the top of the fifth, before the Utes once again got to Jones for a run in the bottom of the fifth. Once again, it was Relf who burned Jones, leading off the frame with a double down the right field line. Freshman shortstop Cody Scaggari then laid down a bunt single, moving men to first and third for Davis -- Utah's best hitter.
With Scaggari going, the first-year infielder out of Taylorsville, Utah, lined into a 4-3 double play, freezing Relf at third. Junior left fielder Tyler Yagi then came up with an RBI single up the middle for the Utes' second run of the day.
Jones was then lifted for junior righty Michael Lowden, who entered the game with a 3.00 ERA and a paltry .194 batting average against, but he was shaky from his first pitch, allowing a triple to freshman third baseman Dallas Carroll, an RBI double down the left field line to junior first baseman Trey Nielsen and a single to senior designated hitter Chase Rezac. Lowden was lifted for Nelson -- who was a likely candidate to start Sunday's getaway day game -- who promptly struck out freshman catcher A.J. young. After hitting freshman center fielder Wyler Smith, Nelson got Relf to pop out to short, and was on the doorstep of getting out of the inning with minimal damage.
Scaggari, though, sent a grounder to short that ate up Reuvekamp for his fifth error in 19 games this season, loading the bases and allowing a second run to score, and pulling Utah to within three runs at 7-4.
Once again thanks to a fielding misadventure, the Bears got back on the board in the top of the seventh. A leadoff grounder to third by Chris Paul was fired up the line by Carroll, allowing the sophomore third baseman to reach second. Designated hitter Michael Theofanopoulos then drew a walk, and both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt from Farney, setting the stage for Diede.
The Lafayette (Calif.) Acalanes product singled through the left side for his second RBI of the day, and his recruiting classmate Pearson followed right up with an RBI single of his own through the left side.
Nelson then allowed a leadoff solo homer to Yagi to lead off the bottom of the seventh, but after that, allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out three over the final three innings to earn his first save of the year, lowering his ERA to 1.86.
Celsi - who took a pitch off his finger while attempting to bunt during the final inning of Tuesday's win over Santa Clara - did get into the game in left field in the bottom of the ninth.
Cal goes for the sweep on Sunday at Spring Mobile Park in Salt Lake City, and will likely send Collin Monsour to the mound against the Utes at 1 p.m. MT.
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