BERKELEY -- 24 hours before he stepped onto the mound at Evans Diamond, California freshman righty Daulton Jefferies was in the hospital, thanks to a nasty virus. Yet, after giving up three runs in three innings against No. 2 Oregon State, he threw up something else – three straight zeroes, keeping the Bears in the game against a national title contender.
Then, thanks to a botched double play with one out in the seventh, the wheels fell off, as he gave up three more runs, as the Beavers went on to finish off a 10-4 win over the Bears to start their three-game set in Berkeley.
Several big defensive plays on Oregon State's side of the ball – including an over-the-wall grab by Michael Conforto on a fifth-inning would-be home run off the bat of freshman Robbie Tenerowicz -- contrasted greatly with four fielding errors on the part of the Bears, including a first-inning line drive that escaped the glove of third baseman Lucas Erceg which set the stage for a two-run double by Conforto, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
"We committed to a younger lineup, and you saw what the difference is. They rob a homer and make a couple nice plays on defense. We miss a line drive and we boot a double play grounder," Esquer said. "Defense was the story, and it was two of our younger guys – our two freshmen – who made the mistakes. One of the freshmen got robbed. There were a couple nice plays by their second baseman and if they don't make them, something happens. It was a hard lesson to learn, but it was high-level, Pac-12, national baseball. The margin of victory or the margin of making it a game is that thin. It's defense."
In the top of the seventh, after hitting center fielder Jeff Hendrix in the leg with one out in the top of the seventh, Jefferies allowed a first-pitch bunt single to the left side off the bat of second baseman Andy Pearson, putting two men on for the dangerous Conforto. After the junior slugger fouled off Jefferies' first pitch at the plate, he sent what looked for all the world to be an inning-ending double play to freshman second baseman Tenerowicz. The ball caromed off of Tenerowicz's chest, and as he went to pick the ball up, he couldn't find the handle, dropping the ball and loading the bases for right fielder Dylan Davis.
Jefferies got ahead of Davis 1-2, but then allowed a booming double off the wall in right center, clearing the bases and putting Oregon State up, 6-0.
"I played the infield, and I know as an infielder, you wear that," Esquer said. "You know that you were the reason that the inning got out of hand. You can't hide, and you don't go home thinking that, ‘Boy, I wish the pitcher would have picked me up,' and you know you were the reason that the inning got started. I know Robbie takes a lot of responsibility for his play, so I think he's going home tonight thinking that that inning was because of him. He'll get better and he'll become better from it. You want guys who take that responsibility. You want those accountable people, because they'll get better."
What made matters worse was that junior right fielder Derek Campbell (2-for-2) led off the next inning with a towering home run onto the roof of the RSF in left center. Instead of a 3-1 game – or even a 2-1 game, after a hit batter in the top of the third came around to score on a bunt and a sacrifice fly – it was 6-1, Beavers.
"Really, it could have been 1-1 in the sixth or seventh. They took advantage of a hit batsman, they stole second, they moved him over and scored him on a fly ball. They didn't have to do a whole lot there. They didn't have to get a hit. Really, that game was close to being 1-0 or 2-0 in the seventh inning."
Oregon State got another run in the top of the eighth off of reliever Chris Muse-Fisher, who hit Hendrix with one out and then coughed up a triple past a diving Campbell in right to Peterson. A three-run home run by Hendrix – who finished the day 3-for-4 with four runs and three RBIs – in the top of the eighth put the Beavers up 10-1, before a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth made things interesting.
After pinch hitters Vince Bruno and Nick Halamandaris went down quietly on just thee total pitches, reliever Phillip Beldong hit pinch hitter Grant Diede on a 2-2 pitch and then walked pinch hitter John Soteropulos on four pitches. Freshman left fielder Aaron Knapp sent a single through the right side to score Diede on a 1-0 offering, and then, with Trent Shelton on the bump, sophomore Max Dutto stroked a double into the right field corner to plate two more runs.
"It's never about the effort, it really isn't," Esquer said. "Our guys put in a good effort. We've just got to play better."
With right-hander Andrew Moore on the bump for Saturday's 6 p.m. contest, Dutto may wind up getting some more run, but finding a spot for him may prove difficult given the performance of shortstop Mike Reuvekamp.
"Max Dutto, for me, has to be our future," Esquer said. "Rev is the heart and soul of our team, and if he's capable of playing, he's got to play. I'm gaining more and more confidence that Max is going to be a contributor in our program, at a time where, I believe, in a year, we're going to be a playoff team. I believe that. I'll step out on a limb: I know that, a year from now, we won't be hoping to go. We'll be good enough. Where we're at right now, we're on our way."
After a walk to first baseman Devon Rodriguez, Shelton was lifted for Brandon Jackson, who then promptly got Chris Paul to fly out to center to end the game.
Beavers starter Ben Wetzler earned his eighth win of the season to move to 8-1, going 7.2 innings with one run on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts, sitting between 85 and 87 mph with his fastball all night, but spotting his pitches low in the zone and on the corners.
"Other than that slider every now and then to the lefties, he didn't really have that wipe-out stuff," said Esquer, who spoke with his hitters for more than 20 minutes after the game. "Early on, we squared some balls, but right at them – nothing that was really threatening the fence or anything, but we squared it to them right at their position. That's baseball."
With Moore on the hill on Saturday, there may be some more changes to the lineup that scratched out just seven hits on Friday. Center fielder Devin Pearson went 2-for-3 on the night, and could wind up seeing more action on the weekend, particularly against lefty Jace Fry on Sunday.
"With [Brian] Celsi being out, it'll be whether we decide to go left-handed versus Moore," Esquer said. "Pearson, I thought, looked better than he has. He had two hits, he stole a base. We've got another left-hander going Sunday, so I have the opportunity to bring him back, if I want to see someone else get at-bats tomorrow. Pearson would be right back against Fry on Sunday."
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