Castellanos has now tossed 11.0 straight no-hit innings, and allowed just two base runners – hitting catcher Brett Cumberland and allowing Chris Paul to reach in the seventh on a throwing error by third baseman Jesse Kuet.
“He was just throwing strikes,” said Cal head coach David Esquer. “You could have put a pitching machine out there for seven innings and I don’t know that we would have done more off of it. It was more us than him, and that’s unfortunate, but that was the case.”
The Bears are now 3-7 in its last 10 games, and has scored just 4 runs over the last 36.0 innings.
The Cardinal (17-21) earned a season series win over the Bears (23-14), after taking two of three in Berkeley two weekends ago. This Cal team was far different than the one that battered Stanford, 11-1, back on Feb. 16. This team is hitting just .212 (68-for-321) over the last 10 games, after starting the year hitting .295, and is showing its youth.
“They didn’t sign up for it to be easy,” Esquer said. “What they want to do, the door that they’re trying to get through, it doesn’t open easy for anybody, and we’re showing a little bit of our youth and inexperience.”
The Cardinal got to starter Jeff Bain quickly in the top of the first, as shortstop Drew Jackson led off with a single past his counterpart, freshman Preston GrandPre. First baseman Matt Winaker then smashed a double into the right center field gap to drive in Jackson, and a groundout to second by Tommy Edman moved him to third. Zach Hoffpauir -- the first of two straight Pac-12 Players of the Week for the Cardinal – was walked intentionally, before Beau Branton sent a flare single to right to score another run.
“I thought Bain came out and was just average,” Esquer said. “I don’t think he’s been himself. He looks like he’s out there like he’s trying to feel good, rather than trying to compete, and I told him that.”
Bain threw 65 pitches – 39 for strikes – in 5.0 innings of work, giving up five hits and three runs – all earned – with two walks, three strikeouts, one hit batsman and one wild pitch. Bain took his second loss on the season, after filling in admirably for ace Daulton Jefferies over the first four weeks of the conference season, when he was 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA
“I think he was better after I said it, because he looked like he was out there trying to throw a bullpen, trying to feel good,” Esquer said. “I don’t need him trying to feel good. When he was good for us, he was competing. He was just trying to get after it, and get the guy out.”
The Bears saw defensive struggles return after a fairly clean weekend at UCLA, recording three errors. The biggest fielding miscue came in the bottom of the third, when, after Bain issued a leadoff walk to Winaker, Edman sent a ground ball up the middle. GrandPre slid over, fielded the ball with his left foot on the bag, came across and threw wide to first, hitting his hand on Winaker’s helmet as he threw. The ball sailed wide of first, allowing Edman to reach second.
“At second base, GrandPre hit the guy in the helmet on the double play turn, and you don’t plan on that, but that was a big play,” Esquer said.
Hoffpauir then sent an RBI double into the right field corner, tacking another run onto Stanford’s increasingly insurmountable lead, given Castellanos’s effectiveness.
Castellanos used the Bears’ hitting struggles to his advantage, as well as the heavy, wet night air at Sunken Diamond, as Cal flied out 12 times and struck out four to just five groundouts during the first seven innings. 11 of those fly outs came in the Bears’ first 18 plate appearances.
“Our swings were long today,” Esquer said. “Our swings were long, and we weren’t good, at all. We’ve got to shorten our swings back. We’ve got to trust being short to the baseball, because we weren’t tonight. You could see, when the ball sped us up a bit at the end, we were better, but you’ve got to be able to own your bat speed, and be able to put that on.”
The Bears were on the verge of being no-hit by Stanford for the first time ever, as the Cardinal spun nearly their first combined no-hitter since 1981, until the ninth inning.
With one out, right fielder Devin Pearson bounced an 0-1 offering from Kramer off the tip of righty’s mitt for an infield single. He was followed up by Aaron Knapp, who sent a hard roller up the middle for a single, putting two men on for the heart of the Bears lineup, but third baseman Lucas Erceg -- who tossed the eighth inning on the mound – flew out to left on the first pitch he saw from Cramer, and then Chris Paul struck out to end the game.
Over the past 10 games, Paul and Erceg have combined to go 17-for-74 (.230), a big reason why the Cal offense has been so stagnant.
“We’re still hanging around a little bit,” Esquer said. “We’re not left for dead. We’re going to have our best stretch of baseball before the season’s over. Now, to get there, it’s not easy … We just don’t have anybody who’s offensively carrying the load – somebody who the other pitching coach is like, ‘We don’t know how to get that guy out.’ Right now, everyone’s at-bat to at-bat, and UCLA’s one of the top two pitching – we have been two – and it’s tough sledding. You’re going to create an opportunity, and there’s a crack, and somebody’s got to come through. You don’t always get to score eight to 10 runs off of a top pitching staff.”
And the road will not get any easier from here on out. The Bears face Arizona (24-13, 9-9 in Pac-12) this coming weekend in Tucson, Ariz., then come home to face No. 11 Arizona State (25-11, 13-5 in Pac-12). After a weekend on the road against Campbell in Buies Creek, NC, Cal comes back to Evans Diamond to face No. 9 USC, and then finish the season at No. 20 Oregon State.
“You look at it one of two ways: The season ebbs and flows,” Esquer said. “Last year, when our season ebbed and flowed, did it look like we were going to win four of the last five series, when [now-student assistant Mike] Reuvekamp went down? We didn’t look like we could do that. We stuck with a lineup that we felt like would work, we played those freshmen, we committed to them, and by the end of the year, they were helping us win two out of three.”