BERKELEY -- California catcher Brett Cumberland was hitting .308 with six home runs, nine doubles, a .567 slugging percentage, a .475 on-base percentage and 26 RBIs through the first 33 games of his freshman campaign, until he ran into UCLA. While sliding into home, he injured his right hand, as the Bears dropped two of three to the Bruins.
It would be the first of two injuries Cumberland would later find out he'd sustained on his throwing hand, as he wound up finishing the season with three bone bruises and a sprained ligament. Over the final 24 games, he went 13-for-73 at the dish (.178). He still was named a Freshman All-American, but it wasn't the season he could have had.
Fast forward a year, and on Sunday, Cumberland put the finishing touches on a three-game sweep of UCLA (12-13, 4-5 in Pac-12), swatting two mammoth first-pitch home runs in a 5-3 win over the Bruins, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs.
"That's huge for our team, especially after that [series] loss to USC," Cumberland said of the sweep -- Cal's second straight perfect weekend. "That one kind of bit us a little bit, and these two sweeps are huge, especially Oregon State, and we just keep everything rolling."
No. 12 Cal (18-6, 7-2) has now swept the last two Pac-12 series, won seven straight and sit atop the Pac-12, along with Utah. Cumberland leads the conference with 10 home runs and a .425 batting average. He's hitting one home run every 7.3 at-bats, and one every 9.6 plate appearances. As former Cal first baseman Devon Rodriguez said on Twitter, those are Barry Bonds-level numbers.
Cumberland's 10 home runs through 24 games, and 73 at-bats, put him on pace for 28 home runs for the season, easily surpassing program single-season home run leader Xavier Nady, who hit 23 in 1999, head coach David Esquer's first season.
"You don't see this kind of pace anywhere, really," Esquer said. "And, he's doing a good job of being a good hitter. He got an RBI right-handed, he walks and every now and then he'll get over-aggressive, but not too often. He chased a change up 3-2, which is unlike him, but he gives us some some fear in the middle of the lineup that they've got to pitch to."
Cumberland said that he'd never been this locked-in, in his life. Over his last six games, he's gone 10-for-19 with four home runs, nine RBIs, three HBPs, eight runs scored and a stolen base.
"I feel good right now," said Cumberland. "I hope it continues."
To put Cumberland's pace into perspective, Nady's home runs were with bats that were not deadened to BBCOR standards, and last year, with these same bats, it took Lucas Erceg 271 at-bats to hit a team-leading 11 home runs.
Cumberland swatted the first of his two dingers in the bottom of the first, a two-out shot to right on a change up to drive home center fielder Aaron Knapp -- aboard on a bouncing single to right, the first of his two hits on the day, after having two hits over the previous two games of the series.
Cumberland added another home run in the fourth, his second round-tripper off of UCLA starter Kyle Molnar, a solo shot that cleared the Edwards Track Stadium grandstand in right.
Cumerland's offense came in support of sophomore Matt Ladrech, who fought himself and the Bruins all day, after a 7.2-inning no-hit outing in relief against then-No. 3 Oregon State last weekend. UCLA had runners on base in every inning.
"He wasn't as sharp as he was against Oregon State," Esquer said. "[If] the ball is down, and he can really take advantage of aggressive-swinging teams. They were aggressive, but he was a little up, so he gave up some hits. He did get it back from time to time, but a solid, gutty outing."
Blow By Blow
Ladrech allowed two one-out singles in the top of the first, and then allowed a two-out walk to load the bases before getting designated hitter Jake Pries to pop out to center.
Ladrech worked with runners on base for the entire afternoon, but, as has been the case all weekend, the Bears' defense picked him up, turning two inning-ending double plays with him on the mound, as Ladrech scattered nine hits and three walks over 6.2 innings, throwing 95 pitches.
"He came in and shut the door," Cumberland said.
"I just want to build off of last week," Ladrech said. "Like I said last week, I made a couple of adjustments, and they're pretty big adjustments, to make some better pitches, force some weaker contact. The hits were there, but a lot of them were pretty soft contact. The defense was unbelievable. Preston [GrandPre] and Robbie [Tenerowicz]'s [double play] turn, unbelievable. Outfield was good, all around, good baseball all weekend. I'm not going to blow it by anyone. I've just got to make a pitch. They'll make contact, and sometimes, they'll find holes. To get three wins last weekend, and then this weekend, and during the week, I could not be happier -- the defense, the bats, great weekend of baseball."
Ladrech got two quick outs in the top of the seventh -- a two-pitch fly to right by catcher Daniel Rosica and a three-pitch strikeout of center fielder Daniel Amaral -- but then stalled, allowing a single back up the middle by third baseman Luke Persico, and a six-pitch walk to right fielder Eric Filia.
The Bears brought in set-up man Keaton Siomkin, who had last pitched on Tuesday against San Francisco, but was idle last weekend against the Beavers, as Cal got two complete games, plus Ladrech's effort on Saturday.
Siomkin got what looked to be the inning-ending double play ball on a bouncer up the middle by first baseman Sean Bouchard, but the ball kangarooed on shortstop Preston GrandPre, tying him up and bringing Persico around to score. Siomkin then battled Kort Peterson for nine pitches, before fanning the Bruins left fielder to end the inning.
"I just had to go after him," Siomkin said. "Coming in with guys on, tying to get that ground ball, end up getting one, and we weren't able to make the play, but you've just got to go after guys and get strikes and give myself a chance to get out of the inning. Strike out, I struck him out on a change up outside. He battled pretty good. It was a tough at-bat. He was not letting me have mine, but I ended up getting him with a change up at the end."
The Bears struck back in the bottom of the frame. After first baseman Nick Halamandaris's hustle double was erased as he was caught stealing third, Cal got back-to-back singles from second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz -- a parachute job into center -- and GrandPre, who snuck a high chopper past Persico, who got his cleats tangled going up for the ball.
Designated hitter Devin Pearson then chopped the second pitch he saw from Molnar high off the leaping glove of Persico to bring Tenerowicz in.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Bears added another run when a leadoff single by Knapp was cashed in thanks to a near-base hit bunt by Mitchell Kranson that turned into a sacrifice, and then an RBI single through the drawn-in infield by Cumberland, who flipped around to hit right-handed against reliever Hunter Virant.
Closer Erik Martinez came on to pitch the ninth, but after not having pitched since Tuesday, he was a little uneven, but managed to hang on to hold back the Bruins.
"That's what our pitching showed this whole weekend with [Jeff] Bain and Ladrech, and even Martinez, there, probably didn't have his best stuff," Esquer said. "He was able to come through it. We played some defense behind them, which was big."
Martinez surrendered a one-out walk to Persico, then a 1-1 double into right center field by Filia, putting men at second and third. An 1-1 RBI single through the left side by Bouchard plated Persico, and a first-pitch single through the right side by Peterson brought UCLA to within two.
Martinez, though, then got pinch hitter Brett Stephens to ground into the third Cal double play of the day, ending the inning and the game.
"You can't get worried with E-Mar," Cumberland said. "He's too good. He's a great closer, and he comes in there and gets the job done. I wasn't worried."
This was the second time in his last five appearances that Martinez has come in, in a non-save situation.
"I think all those factors combined, and he came out there and they put some swings on him," Esquer said. "We gave them a different look, they went left, left and some fastballs for strikes, they were pretty aggressive, and they got some hits off of him."
Cal again played not just clean defense, but exceptional defense, with the only blemish being the error by GrandPre on a tough hop. Cal has recorded just three errors over the last eight games, including just one over the last two weekend series.
"We need to play defense, and we gave them a little opening, with defense -- that ball bounces off of Preston's glove and gives them a crack, there," Esquer said. "We did a great job of getting that run back and then added one, but we needed it there, at the end."
A crowd of 1,454 took in the action at Evans Diamond on Sunday. The crowd was the second of three this weekend to break 1,300, and the Bears drew 973 on Friday night.
"It keeps getting better and better," said Esquer. "Once we turned those lights on, the crowds started coming out, and the crowds keep getting better and better."
Cal takes on Stanford (14-8, 4-2) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Evans Diamond, live on the Pac-12 Networks. Given that every starter had to move up a day due to Daulton Jefferies's lower leg stiffness that caused him to be a scratch on Friday, Esquer said he's not sure yet who will face the Cardinal.
"He's day-to-day," Esquer said of his ace. "He said he felt better today than he has, but we're in no hurry for him, Last year, it happened that he missed a couple starts, and we ended up one pitcher stronger, because we developed somebody in crunch time, and it was Bain. It helped us down the stretch. It's not ideal, but everyone's going through that, around the league."
After that, the Bears hit the road to face Oregon, which sits at second-to-last in the Pac-12 at 11-11 overall, and 2-4 in conference play.
"They've got three left-handed pitchers, starters, who are pretty solid," Esquer said. "They're going to make you beat them. You can't fall asleep on them, and the games are fairly low-scoring. They just haven't been on the winning end recently, but those things flip with one mistake, or, if you give them a crack, they can open it wide. They've to some shut-down pitching."