BERKELEY -- Last Feb. 14, California righty fanned 12 in the season-opening series against Duke, and in the first home series of this season, the 6-foot-6 sinkerballer came out firing more arrows than Cupid, fanning 10 Purdue hitters and throwing 7.0 innings of shutout ball, with just one walk, in the Golden Bears' 4-0 win over the Boilermakers.
"I felt good today," Mason said. "Obviously, the change up was working, I trusted the defense, as always, and they always picked me up. I can't say anything other than I was really juiced to come back here for the fourth year, and get a good home start."
The win clinched the series win, No. 12 Cal's first of the season.
"Obviously, big," Mason said. "You can't ever let anyone come into our house and take two of three from us. That's obviously huge to get two, and we'll see if we can do something tomorrow."
Mason struck out the side in each of the first two innings, and recorded a strikeout on six of the first nine Purdue men to step to the plate, effectively changing speeds and using his sinking fastball and change up to great effect, keeping the Boilermakers off-balance by going from 70 mph to 89 mph, and mixing in his 81-82 change up.
Mason allowed four runs in 6.0 innings his last time out, but on Saturday, looked like the pitcher that went 6-4 with a 2.98 ERA as a junior.
"I just had a big inning [against Duke], but not much difference; I could easily have done the same thing that night," Mason said. "I just left a few balls up in one inning. The only thing was I probably trusted my stuff a little bit more. I was a little rusty. It felt good; [the change up] was a good pitch tonight. It's always good to have command of it, and I did. I knew if they hit it, they'd probably pound it into the ground, and that's where the infield came in."
Mason's 10 strikeouts on 94 pitches mean that in the first two games of the series, Cal starters have fanned 18 hitters, combined, as Daulton Jefferies also threw 94 on Friday night, fanning eight in 6.0 innings. Mason traditionally is not a strikeout pitcher -- he averaged 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings -- but the differential between his fastball and his change up, thanks to new pitching coach Thomas Eager, may make the difference.
"It could be, but I'm not sure yet; it's a little early to tell," Mason said. "I'm not sure how the season's going to go with the strikeouts, but it's always nice to have a few in the first half of the season. It happened last year, and I wound up being just another ground ball pitcher, so we'll see what happens."
While Mason plied his trade on the mound, his batterymate, Brett Cumberland, kept hot at the dish, going 4-for-4 with his second home run in as many days, slugging a solo shot in the bottom of the second just over the grand stand of Edwards Track Stadium for the second night in a row.
Following his 2-1 bomb to right off of starter Nick Dalesandro in the bottom of the second, Cumberland stroked an RBI double over the head of left fielder Brett Carlson, bringing home Devin Pearson in the bottom of the sixth. Cumberland doubled again in the bottom of the eighth, advanced to third and then rode home on a sacrifice fly to center by Nick Halamandaris.
Cumberland's circuit shot was one of two on the night by the Bears, who got a leadoff homer in the bottom of the seventh off the bat of Robbie Tenerowicz -- a shot that went off the video board in left -- for the second home run of his career.
Senior Keaton Siomkin came on to pitch a scoreless eighth, with two strikeouts, before giving way to closer Erik Martinez, who tossed a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out center fielder Kyle Johnson and Dalesandro, who started on the hill, and hit.
The series concludes with a 12 p.m. tilt against Purdue (1-4), with lefty Matt Ladrech on the mound against the Boilermakers' Gavin Downs, who went 5.0 innings last time out, allowing three runs and striking out one.
"We just want to see the old Ladrech," said head coach David Esquer, who saw his sophomore lefty give up three runs on four hits and two walks in 3.0 innings last week against Duke. "We'll see it when he's able to pitch with all three pitches, and, quite frankly, with left-handers like him, he can never be backed into a corner. I thought he backed himself into a corner in North Carolina, where he was having to throw the fastball, because that was the pitch he had control over. That will never work for him. He's one of those guys with a 3-0 count, it's almost in his benefit, because he can use hsi best pitches."
Center fielder Aaron Knapp continued his struggles, going 0-for-4 at the top of the lineup. He's now 4-for-25 on the season.
"Knapp's not hot yet," Esquer said. "He's pressing a little bit now. You want to see those results, and you want to see them happen, and it can start to play with you a little, mentally, and you start to try to play for the result, rather than just the process of what it takes. He'll get there, but he needs something to maybe relax him down."
Though first baseman Brenden Farney went 0-for-4, all four of his outs were well struck. He's seeing the ball well -- he came into the game 6-of-16 on the year, with four doubles -- but he was hitting balls right at fielders on Saturday.
"He's giving you a pretty good at-bat, and you feel pretty good about him," Esquer said. "He's getting the barrel on it and squaring the ball up. That's the thing that he's given us in that part of the order, is pretty consistent contact."
Senior Brian Celsi went 2-for-4, raising his average from .158 to .217.
Martinez now has struck out nine batters in 4.0 innings of work.
After not hitting a home run in the first four games of the season, Cal (4-2) has now hit five over the past two.