Coming into Friday's tilt against Oregon ace Cole Irvin, No. 9 California was hitting .240 against left-handed pitching. After just one inning, the Bears had exorcised that particular ghost, batting around against Irvin, plating five runs on six hits and a walk, with three coming around on a home run by Brenden Farney.
Farney went 4-for-5 on the day, with his fourth home run of the season -- a three-run shot -- in the first, a double in the fifth and an RBI two-bagger into right in the top of the sixth.
Cal set a season high with 21 hits, surpassing 19 against Purdue in a 15-5 win. 15 of those hits came off of Irvin -- the most he's surrendered in his career -- en route to a 12-2 series-opening win against the Ducks (12-12, 2-5 in Pac-12), the Bears' seventh straight win in conference play.
"Our guys just took the challenge," said head coach David Esquer. "They knew that teams think the way to get us is left, and even Stanford, the other night, they went left-left-left and thought, 'Hey, that's the way to get Cal,' and the reality is, we had a one-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning, so it isn't necessarily the way to get us."
After a five-run first -- which saw three straight one-out seeing-eye ground ball singles by Aaron Knapp, Mitchell Kranson and Brett Cumberland, Farney hit a towering three-run blast, and Cal capped things off with an RBI infield single to deep short by Preston GrandPre.
Then, senior Bears starter Ryan Mason got into some trouble, himself.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1643615-all-aboard-the-cra... Mason missed up in the zone early to an Oregon team hitting just .210 on the year, and paid for it, as the Ducks slammed a double to left and a single to right, then loaded the bases on a four-pitch walk to A.J. Balta.
A bad route taken by Farney in left on a high fly ball by Jake Bennett allowed two runs to score, cutting the Cal lead to 5-2.
"First inning, I had to sit in the dugout a little while, because we ended up scoring five, so I lost the feel of where I came in from the bullpen, which you have to have," Mason said. "I was leaving it up, my fastball was a little flat, and I was just trying to find some stuff in the first, and I ended up finding what I had in the 'pen before the game, through the rest of the game."
From there on out, Mason retired eight straight, and the offense kept grinding.
"I don't know how many times I can say it: If he's not the best, he is tied for the best competitor [...] no, he is the best competitive pitcher I've ever coached," Esquer said. "His competitiveness is just unbelievable."
The Bears (19-7, 8-2) went 15-for-29 against Irvin, including the high drive from Farney that even cleared right fielder Bennett standing on top of the right field wall, and a lightning bolt off the bat of Nick Halamandaris in the top of the fifth for his first long ball of the season.
"That was one of those at-bats where we teach them to not do too much," Esquer said of Farney's circuit shot. "He maybe worked a little hard on some pitches versus left handers, and he really used his hands to try to flip that ball, and it went a long way. Those at-bats give you the confidence to have the right approach."
Every Cal starter tallied at least one base hit off of Irvin, with six starters tallying multi-hit days against the Ducks lefty before he exited in the sixth, having given up a ground ball single through the right side by Kranson and a rocket up the third base line by Cumberland that ricochetted off of the protruding fan deck and to Balta, holding the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week to a single.
Cumberland went 3-for-4 on the day, with three runs and an RBI, upping his batting average to .427.
After Irvin exited, righty Isaiah Carranza became the Bears' whipping boy. Farney set a rocket to right that bounced away from Bennett to drive in another run on a double, and Robbie Tenerowicz rapped a hard single up the middle of a drawn-in infield to drive in another run, to make it 11-2.
Tenerowicz -- after hitting .182 last year -- is on a hot streak, having gone 3-for-5 on Friday, and 7-for-18 over the last five games to raise his average to .287.
"It's a tribute to him, and to coach [Brad] Sanfilippo, who have worked to get him to find an offensive game that's going to suit him and help us," Esquer said. "They keep him in line with the approach that we need for him to help us, offensively, and to be honest, he's humble enough to do that, and we really appreciate that that's what he's giving us."
Mason recorded four strikeouts in the fifth, sixth and seventh, as his slider command got stronger and stronger, and he began getting more swings and misses.
"It was the slider, again, a lot of backdoor sliders to lefties, and I got, I think, five strikeouts on it," Mason said. "The change up is always there, always a strike pitch, and the fastball location was better, but the slider was the difference-maker."
"They tried to stack the deck on both sides," Esquer said. "They went left-handed on us, obviously with the All-American pitcher, and then stacked eight left-handed hitters in a row against Ryan Mason. It was a great job on both sides of the ball, and our guys did a great job of rising to the challenge on the road against a good ball club."
After a single by Austin Grebeck in the fifth, Oregon did not have another runner reach base for the remainder of the game, as the Bears offense kept piling on. Mason tossed his second complete game in his last three starts, and the fourth of his career.
"I was just talking with Nick Halamandaris -- we just had that conversation last night: 'How hard is it to keep your focus?'" Mason said. "It's very hard to stay into a game when you're putting it on them a little bit, and you've got to still try and pitch your game, because you've got to keep your team in it, so they have the chance to keep batting. The only thing we could come up with, was, hey, if golfers can do it for four days, for five hours a day, we can probably stay tuned in for three [hours] in one week."
After some early seeing-eye singles in the first, Farney got things going again in the eighth against Oregon's second reliever, Parker Kelly, with a slow, high bouncer between first and second to move Cumberland -- aboard with a leadoff single -- to third. Halamandaris then sent a rocket single to right to drive home Cumberland for Cal's 20th hit of the evening, for the final tally.
More of Mason
This past offseason, Mason added 15 pounds of muscle onto his 6-foot-6 frame, and is averaging 6.09 innings per start, a shade under his career-high average innings per outing last season (6.16) , but with two complete games and the season just halfway done -- a career high -- he's become as dependable a pitcher as Cal has had in years. Not once has he ever missed a scheduled start, and of course, he moved up a day on 15 minutes' notice last week, and threw 7.0 stellar innings against UCLA.
"He was throwing 94 in the ninth inning, and he was going after it in the ninth inning to finish," said Esquer. "He was feeling pretty good, and he was turning it loose like I've never seen before. He says he feels fine, but his getting after it in the ninth inning, their coaches even remarked on how he went for it."
"I wanted to get it over with," Mason said. "You can't expect every night that we break a record against Oregon and get 21 hits."
Mason said that late strength and velocity -- he's been 82-87 most of his career, but has been at 88-92 this season -- as well as his durability, is no accident.
"I gained 15 pounds, and that's helped, but other than that, I haven't changed much," said Mason, who, on the team, is the captain of the Skinnies (one of the team cliques, to go along with the 'Stache Bros). Now, he's less skinny. "Exactly. I just feel overall better, a little healthier, bigger, not super skinny anymore for a 6-7 guy, but I'm always going to be that lanky guy. Other than that, I've got to give a lot of credit to coach [Mike] Blasquez, our strength coach, because he really got into me, to work hard in the weight room this year, and I've done it the whole year. He's respected that, and I've respected him. It's paid off so far this year, in a huge way. It really has."
Mason had both his parents -- Bob and Allison -- in the stands, as well as aunt and uncle, Rosanne and Dave, from Lake Oswego, Ore., in attendance.
"That's a lot for me, because they never come out," Mason said.
Bain to Start Saturday
Cal will start Jeff Bain against the Ducks on Saturday. While the Bears brought injured ace Daulton Jefferies on the trip, and Esquer listed him as "day-to-day," the Freshman All-American Bain will take the hill in the second game.
"At this point, we're not going to do anything dumb, and pitch Daulton," Esquer said. "We've got the guys who've replaced him, and Mason throwing a complete game on Friday is a big pick-up to our whole bullpen."