"We played good enough to lose," Esquer said after an abbreviated postgame talk with his team in shallow right field. "We've got to get better. It's a simple message: We've got to get better."
Despite a 14 hit attack, with every starter recording at least one base hit (with five players tallying two hits apiece), the Bears (16-20) could not get the big hit when it mattered, stranding 11 runners on base, and six in scoring position.
"It's not going to happen fast, but some of those at-bats, you've just got to have," Esquer said of his young lineup. "You've just got to be better than their guy in those at-bats, and we're not, right now."
The Dons, on the other hand, broke through with four runs in the top of the first and five in the top of the eighth.
"We didn't have the pitching to hold them, and that's the name of the game," Esquer said. "We didn't have the pitching at the start of the game, and we didn't have the pitching at the end of the game."
Sophomore starter Keaton Siomkin got the day off to an auspicious start, surrendering a 1-2 homer to leadoff man Justin Maffei, an 0-2 single up the middle by Jason Mahood, a 1-0 double by Bradley Zimmer and a three-run homer to Zachary Turner before striking out the next two hitters and getting an 0-1 fly out to center off the bat of sophomore first baseman Brendan Hendriks.
The Bears stayed within at least two runs of the Dons (21-15) through the bottom of the seventh, before junior righty Michael Lowden gave up a one-out, first-pitch solo homer to light-hitting catcher Ryan Matrenga -- who came in hitting just .121. The ball hooked left off of Matrenga's bat, and appeared to go foul over the shorter temporary fence in the left field corner, according to the protests of left fielder Grant Diede, but third base umpire Jason Venzon -- standing at the edge of the infield grass -- ruled it a home run, putting Cal down, 7-5.
"It's tough without a pole right on the fence, but the physics of it didn't make sense, to go over the line and be that far to the left of the pole, but he's going to stand firm and think he's right," Esquer said.
Lowden was then pulled for righty Ryan Sandler, who failed to record an out, allowing a four-pitch walk to Maffei, uncorked two wild pitches and surrendered a double to center by Zimmer. Side-armer Trevor Hildenberger then threw yet another wild pitch and allowed two singles to make it 11-5, before freshman Collin Monsour put out the fire with a fly out and a grounder to first.
"I'm more worried about the process than the result with this group, as I have been the whole year," Esquer said. "It could get worse. It absolutely could get worse."
Blow by Blow
Cal had plenty of chances to both reel in and pass San Francisco, but each time, the Bears came up short.
In the bottom of the second, down 5-2 with one out and runners at the corners, freshman
After a 1-2-3 inning by reliever Kyle Porter in the top of the third, the Bears had the heart of the lineup coming to the dish in the bottom of the frame. Junior Devon Rodriguez bounced a leadoff single up the middle, and catcher Andrew Knapp rocketed a double off the top of the wall in left to put two men in scoring position for powerful freshman first baseman Nick Halamandaris.
The former eighth-round pick of the Seattle Mariners fisted a 1-1 flare to shallow left to a charging Mitchell Rowan, who came on hard to snare the ball and fired home. Slow-footed Rodriguez took off from third, trying to beat the throw, but despite the missive being up the first base line, Matrenga still had time to come back and tag out Rodriguez for the rare 7-2 double play.
Diede then came up and immediately sent a hard line-drive single through the left side to score Knapp to make it 5-4, instead of 5-5, had Rodriguez not been gunned down.
"Coach [Tony] Arnerich read it like he read it, and I trust him to be aggressive and try to make things happen, and it just didn't work out," Esquer said.
With two men on and two outs, Rodriguez – who had started to pull out of a recent 1-for-25 slump with four hits in his last six at-bats – then took a called strike three at the knees on a 2-2 breaking ball by reliever Ben Graff to end the threat.
The Dons extended the lead to 6-4 against ousted starter Justin Jones in the top of the fifth on a wild pitch with two outs and men on second and third. Jones tossed 2.0 innings, allowing three hits and two walks with two strikeouts in his second straight appearance out of the pen. Jones has now allowed three earned runs in 5.1 relief innings, with eight hits and seven strikeouts. The strategy the staff is employing with Jones mirrors what the San Francisco Giants did last season with struggling starter Tim Lincecum, Esquer said.
"A little bit, a little bit," Esquer said. "We're putting him in a different role and see if he can do something better for us. Sometimes he does, and sometimes he still doesn't. You just can't tell what it is."
Cal added a run in the bottom of the seventh, when Diede sent a grounder just inside the bag at third for an RBI single. With no outs and men at first and second, pinch hitter Brian Celsi sacrificed both runners into scoring position for Dutto. With one strike on him, the freshman out of Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley popped out to first baseman Hendriks in foul ground, and Reuvekamp sent the second pitch he saw hopping right to Mahood at second for the easy put-out.
After the five-run explosion by the Dons in the top of the eighth, the Bears wasted a leadoff single by Pearson with a pop out, a groundout and a strikeout by Farney, Rodriguez and Knapp. Cal then went 1-2-3 in the ninth to tie the longest losing streak in Esquer's tenure.
Siomkin took his second loss in as many starts, dropping to 1-2 and raising his ERA to 5.20. Graff took the win to move to 2-1 on the season.
Porter was solid in his first outing since March 29, throwing two shutout innings with two strikeouts.
"The stuff still isn't quite there yet, but he competed today," Esquer said. "He got out of his two innings."
The Bears return to conference play this weekend with a three-game set against Washington State (18-15, 5-7 in the Pac-12), which boasts the league's second-highest team batting average (.309), best slugging percentage (.439), second-best on-base percentage (.388), second-most runs scored (215), most hits (354), second-most RBI (188), third-most doubles (68), second-most homers (tied with Cal with 19) and most total bases (503).