Before being asked a single question after Sunday’s series finale, head coach David Esquer said, “You think we missed Chris Paul today?”
The answer was most assuredly ‘yes.’ Two plays at first by junior Nick Halamandaris helped spell the end for pitch-to-contact starting lefty Matt Ladrech, and a late error by Lucas Erceg at first – one of six Cal errors – also contributed to the loss.
“We need to play – we talked, that there’s a difference between winning defense and championship defense – we didn’t even play winning defense,” Esquer said. “We were, earlier in the season, we were trying to make that jump from winning defense to championship defense, when you turn tough double plays in big spots, make great plays to save your pitchers. We just have a pitching staff that needs defense.”
Those plays, Esquer said, would have been made by the senior first baseman, who exited Saturday night’s game after the sixth inning with a hip flexor strain.
“It’s tough,” Esquer said. “It was his first time out there, and no excuses. You need to play better. It happens. Hoffpauir could have been hurt for them yesterday, and they’d have to deal with playing without him.”
Ah, yes, Zach Hoffpauir. The former Cal football commit who went 2-for-4 with two, three-run home runs on Saturday came back once again to haunt the Bears (22-11, 9-6 in Pac-12) on Sunday, going 3-for-4 with two runs, three RBIs, a double and a home run, as the Cardinal (14-19, 2-10) banged out 13 hits, with the 2-3-4 hitters going 7-for-13 and driving in five of Stanford’s 12 runs.
Mikey Diekroeger went 1-for-5 in the two-hole, scoring a run, while second baseman Tommy Edman went 2-for-5 with three runs and one RBI and first baseman Matt Winaker went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI.
“Uncharacteristically, our pitching was unable to handle basically two, three and four in their order,” said Esquer, who saw top freshman reliever Erik Martinez issue four walks and six runs in 1.1 innings of work. Diekroeger, Edman and Hoffpauir, we couldn’t keep them back. They really had their way with us.”
None of Martinez’s runs in a disastrous top of the sixth, though, were earned. The inning started off with a walk to catcher Alex Dunlap, who was sacrificed over to second. Diekroeger swung and missed on a slider for the second out of the inning, but then the wheels fell off. Edman stepped up and sent a bouncer through the right side of the infield, off of Erceg’s glove and into right, which was later ruled an error. Martinez dealt four wide to intentionally walk Hoffpauir, but couldn’t dial back in to find the strike zone against Winaker, issuing a seven-pitch walk.
After a brief pitching conference, Martinez gave up a grounder to the left side, where shortstop Preston GrandPre double clutched, and couldn’t make any play, allowing a run to score.
Martinez then walked Jack Klein to score another run, and was lifted for Jesse Kay. Kay promptly surrendered a hot shot through the left side to left fielder Johnny Locher, plating two more runs, before walking Dunlap, spelling the end of his day. Colin Monsour came in and got a fly out to Jackson, but the damage was done, as the Cardinal built on their 5-0 lead to come out up 11-0.
It was two other misplays at first, though, that set the stage for that explosion.
“We had done a great job of making up for our injuries, but we didn’t today,” said Esquer, who’s had to play the first four weeks of conference play without ace Daulton Jefferies, and has seen starting right fielder Devin Pearson (hamate) and starting second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz (wrist) also miss significant time. “We couldn’t bear it, today.”
Without Paul, Halamandaris got the start at first in his first action in the field this season. In the top of the third, with one out, Halamandaris couldn’t dig out a low throw by GrandPre on a grounder by Jackson. Diekroeger then sent a hard grounder up the middle, where GrandPre made a diving stop. Halamandaris whiffed on the throw to first, allowing a run to score, and Edman to move to second. After Hoffpauir banged a 3-0 offering from Ladrech through the left side for a single, Winaker came up and rolled what looked to be an easy out to first, but with Ladrech late to cover, Halamandaris – playing deep -- threw the ball away, allowing another run to score.
Esquer said afterwards that Paul would likely have make both of those plays, as well as the one Erceg booted.
“He has,” Esquer said. “I don’t know if he does, but he has made all three of those plays.”
The Cal offense, in contrast, mustered just one hit through the first four innings – a first-inning single by catcher Brett Cumberland -- and didn’t have any legitimate scoring opportunity until the bottom of the fifth. The Bears got two men on via a leadoff walk to Brian Celsi and a one-out single to Sean Peters, but GrandPre struck out swinging, and Aaron Knapp flied out to left to end the threat.
In the top of the fifth, Hoffpauir stroked a home run off the Matt Luke mural on the wall of the RSF in left field, and glared at Ladrech the whole way around the bases, prompting both Erceg and Cumberland to take exception. That spark, though, didn’t ignite any fire in the offense.
“He didn’t do anything special,” Esquer said of Stanford starter Andrew Summerville, who went 6.0 shutout innings, allowing four hits and two walks, striking out four. “He threw fastballs for strikes. He had a little curveball, but it wasn’t a power curveball. He had no real pitch that caused you anxiety. You just had to square him up and be a hitter and have good at-bats, and we just didn't do that. Yet, Hoffpauir was as good as any hitter we’ve seen all year, this weekend. I kind of felt like that’s maybe what Erceg looked like against Washington, when they just had no answer for him.”
Cal did get late offensive production, and, following his walk-off RBI single on Saturday, it came from Celsi.
In the bottom of the eighth, pinch hitter Grant Diede, Erceg and late-inning catcher sub Matt Ruff worked back-to-back-to-back walks to lead off the frame against right-handed reliever Keith Weisenberg, before Weisenberg was able to strike out Tenerowicz for the first out. Two pitches later, though, Celsi came up and struck for is second grand slam this year, driving a high fastball to right to finally get the Bears on the board.
“Coach gave me the green light to swing, I swung at the first pich, and I was just trying to put up something hard, get some runs across,” said Celsi. “I didn’t want to get skunked against Stanford. I ended up getting something up, and it ended up going out.
“If the hole wasn’t so big, man, it would have been a way different game. Everyone started to relax, everyone started having fun again, and even being down five runs, we were all ready to go again. We just ran out of time. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot. Now, we know, and we know what not to do. We know what to do.”
Following Celsi’s third roundtripper of the year, Max Dutto doubled down the right field line on a 2-2 offering from reliever Quinn Brodey. Peters then sent a chopper to third, but the throw to first took Winaker into the basepath, where the two collided, allowing Dutto to ride home. With two outs, Knapp sent a line drive over short to plate Peters, bringing Cal to within five, but Diede fanned to end the inning, and Erceg – who went 1-for-3 with a long single off the base of the wall earlier in the afternoon – popped out to short to start off the ninth. A walk to Ruff and a two-out hit by Celsi were all the Bears could muster in the final frame, as Dutto went down looking to finish things off.
“I think we’re caught in a rut right now,” Celsi said. “Then, we start pressing, start squeezing the bat a little too hard. It was nice to see us put up a couple more runs at the end, but it was just too late. We dug too big of a hole.”