No. 9 California has not lost back-to-back games since March 18-19 at USC, but did so again this weekend, following up a 4-3 decision on Saturday with an 11-5 drubbing on Sunday at the hands of Oregon (14-12, 4-5 in Pac-12).
The Ducks punished starter Matt Ladrech for four runs -- all earned -- on six hits in 4.1 innings, scoring 10 of its 11 runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
"We just didn't do a good enough job, in a lot of ways," said head coach David Esquer. "We had runners on second and third two of the first three innings, and bases loaded the other, and we had it where if we hadn't made five outs, we'd have scored five runs. We've got to rise to the challenge. That's who we have to be, especially on the road. On the road, you've got to take advantage of what they give you, and we weren't able to do that today."
Ladrech had allowed just one run (unearned) over his last two outings, totaling 14.1 innings.
"He was kind of battling most of the time, and started the fifth with a 2-1 lead, they drop one into left field, and then got rolling and got into their game," Esquer said. "Keaton didn't have it today, and it snowballed on us a bit. It was one of those days. I'm not looking too deeply into this thing, as far as it being defining to who we are. There's a lot to learn about playing on the road for this team. We've been really good on the road the last two years, so it's unusual for us to not play this well on the road."
The Bears (19-9, 8-4) had just six hits on the afternoon, with second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz going 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk. Leadoff man Devin Pearson, who'd gone 6-for-19 entering the series (.317), but just 1-for-10 over the previous two days, went 1-for-1 and was hit three times over the course of the day.
Pearson, despite his uneven success at the plate, has recently shown a very mature opposite field approach at the dish, and his one hit -- a drive to right center field for a two-run triple in the top of the fourth -- momentarily gave Cal a 2-1 lead.
"He's been struggling a little bit, but got a big hit today," Esquer said. "We couldn't make it hold up. We just gave them too much, and didn't take what was given to us."
The Bears took that lead after the Ducks got their first run of the day on an A.J. Balta home run with two outs in the bottom of the first -- his second home run in as many days.
Balta finished the day 2-for-4 with two runs scored and two runs driven in, along with a walk.
Oregon re-took the lead in the bottom of the fifth, plating six runs against Ladrech and middle reliever Keaton Siomkin.
Ducks second baseman Daniel Patzlaff popped a leadoff double into the left field corner, and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Slade Heggen. Shortstop Travis Moniot then laced an RBI single through the hole at short, through a drawn-in infield, to tie the game. Speedy Austin Grebeck then dropped down a bunt single, chasing Ladrech.
Siomkin was rudely greeted by a line-drive RBI single to right off the bat of third baseman Kyle Kasser, breaking the the and putting Oregon ahead for good.
Balta then stepped up and sent a fly ball bloop double down the left field line, plating Grebeck. An RBI groundout by Jake Bennett brought home Kasser, spelling the end for Siomkin, and a double to right center by pinch hitter Steven Packard cashed in Balta. Tim Susnara then dropped a bloop single into no-man's land in shallow left off of newly-entered freshman reliever Joey Matulovich for the final tally of the inning, before the first-year right-hander allowed a single to Patzlaff, before striking Heggen out, looking.
Cal, though, didn't go down quietly, as a leadoff single to left center by Tenerowicz, a one-out walk to right fielder Jeffrey Mitchell and Pearson taking a dose loaded the bases for Aaron Knapp. The junior center fielder fouled out deep enough to left field to bring home Tenerowicz, and one batter later, third baseman Mitchell Kranson crushed a double to right center to drive home two.
Catcher Brett Cumberland -- Cal's leading RBI man -- had gone 0-for-3 on the day, and 0-for-2 on Saturday, after going 3-for-4 to open things on Friday, and promptly struck out with a man in scoring position to end the threat. Cal left 11 runners on base over the course of the afternoon.
"Yesterday may have gotten us out of our hitting rhythm, and sometimes, you fall into that trap," Esquer said. "You let your guard down, and you don't get back up like you'd like to. It was tough. We had some opportunities, and couldn't get into a rhythm, and they had something to do with that."
The Ducks came storming back in the bottom of the sixth, sending nine men to the plate. Matulovich -- who had tossed a perfect eighth in Saturday's loss, and had allowed one run on three hits over his last 6.0 innings pitched -- gave up back-to-back singles to Moniot and Grebeck to lead things off, and was promptly replaced by closer Erik Martinez.
The Cal fireman, who'd seen his ERA balloon from 0.66 to 3.46 over his last two outings, walked Kasser, but struck Balta out looking. He looked to get just the inning-ending double play he needed on a grounder to first, but after Nick Halamandaris threw to shortstop Preston GrandPre at the second base bag, GrandPre's return missive went down the line, bounced off the Oregon dugout railing and into right field, allowing two runs to score.
Back-to-back walks by Martinez set the stage for Patzlaff, who singled to left to drive home two more, before Heggen flied out to right.
"I think he pitched better toward the end of this outing," Esquer said of Martinez, who went one more inning, allowing no hits after the sixth, finishing the day with three strikeouts. "He got back into his rhythm, and wanted to stay out there and pitch more, because he felt he was getting back into his pitch rhythms. Maybe that can be a positive. He did get that double play ball, and it would have gotten us out of that inning, 7-5, with three innings to go, and maybe we could have stretched him a little bit, but we weren't able to do that. That's kind of how the game went. We had a lot of opportunities, and things we normally do well, we didn't do well, which is pick up runners on base and play defense. It just was not going our way today."
The rough pitching weekend, necessitated by the lower right leg injury to ace Daulton Jefferies, was exacerbated by the inconsistency of Ladrech and the lack of more experienced bullpen arms, with righty Alex Schick still about two weeks away.
"We're not built to make that a non-factor," Esquer said of Jefferies's absence. "It's going to show some wear and tear eventually, and obviously, you get Daulton Jefferies on a Friday, that's 7.0 innings that you can take off the scorecard for your pitching depth."
Were Jefferies not on the shelf, either Jeff Bain or Ladrech would be coming out of the bullpen, with the other pitching on Sunday, and Ryan Mason on Saturdays. It is a problem that will not go away soon, Esquer said, as Jefferies will also miss this upcoming road series against Arizona State. The Sun Devils are 17-12 on the year, and 4-8 in conference play.
"I wouldn't count on it," Esquer said of Jefferies returning next weekend. "We're just going to have to make do. We're going to have to come out the other side a little stronger. I thought Bain pitched better. He made two mistakes, but overall, his pitches were better. He'll keep us in position to win. Like when Daulton was out last year, we've got to take advantage of adversity and come out one pitcher stronger. This assures that Dodson's been starting on Tuesdays, and he'll start this Tuesday, and if we can get him going and add him to the mix, that's going to be a plus for us that we're going to need down the line."
With Matulovich having pitched twice this weekend, that means that freshman Tanner Dodson will get the nod on Tuesday at 5 p.m., down the coast at Cal Poly-SLO, the alma mater and former employer of Cal pitching coach Thomas Eager. The Mustangs are 19-11 overall, with a 14-5 mark at home. They split a pair with UCLA (losing 19-0, and winning 6-2), and beat Michigan, 5-1, earlier in the season. Cal Poly is coming off of a winning weekend against stalwart Cal State Fullerton, taking two of three.