Over the past five games, California has gone 21-for-75 against left-handers (.280), up from a season average of .240 before the Bears' series against Oregon. Yet, on Saturday Arizona State still sent four southpaws to the pitching slab (among seven pitchers overall), and Cal didn't flinch, going 16-for-38 (.421) en route to an 8-4, 11-inning win, featuring big hits from -- Who else? -- the lefties, with Mitchell Kranson going 4-for-6 and Brian Celsi hitting the go-ahead home run to lead off the top of the 11th.
"The more lefties we face, the better we're going to be," said Kranson.
The home run -- and the three more runs the Bears would tack on in the 11th -- helped get closer Erik Martinez off the hook, after he allowed a game-tying double with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
"Probably as tough a win as I may have ever been involved in, as far as having opportunities and not taking advantage of them," said head coach David Esquer. "They're trying really hard, and want it really bad, and they may be trying too hard, so it's a little bit of a struggle for them, but they showed some pretty impressive will to stay with it, even as things went south in the ninth."
It was Celsi's first day back after missing four games thanks to an ill-fated leap over the right field fence in Oregon in pursuit of an A.J. Balta home run rung his bell, and he came back with a bang, not only launching his second home run of the season, but going 3-for-5 in the nine slot.
"Brian, he's a competitor, and he's a verbal leader of our team, so getting him back is a big deal, and gets us going in the dugout and on the field," Esquer said. "We felt his presence, immediately, energy-wise."
"Brian does a really good job; he can hit anywhere, and he actually does a really good job in the nine hole of turning the lineup over, and we finally had the personnel and the ability to hit him there," said Esquer, who also started Devin Pearson back in left field for the second straight game, after he had DH'd for the balance of the season. "He had a big swing, obviously, and Robbie followed up with another big one. When you get on the road, you can't just piece it together. You've got to knock them out."
Esquer moved second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz up from the seven hole, where he'd hit for most of the season, into the No. 2 slot in the lineup, and it paid off. Tenerowicz hit a one-out home run two batters after Celsi in the 11th, and went 2-for-6 on the day. Over his past 11 games, Tenerowicz is hitting .380 (16-for-42) with 12 runs scored, 7 RBIs, three doubles and a home run.
"The top of the lineup wasn't productive at all, so I moved Robbie to the top, because he'd been having some pretty good at-bats," Esquer said.
On the season, Tenerowicz is hitting .298, more than .100 higher than his .182 as a sophomore, and his .168 average as a freshman. With eight doubles and 15 RBIs in 31 games this season, he's surpassed last season's totals of one and eight, respectively.
"How great is Robbie?" Kranson asked. "Robbie's been swinging great. It's awesome to see. I couldn't be more proud of him."
Right-handed starter Jeff Bain continues to round into form, and scattered six hits and two walks over 6.1 innings, allowing two runs (both earned), throwing 98 pitches.
"I thought he got better as he went along, and I was really pleasantly surprised, because I thought he started off just OK," Esquer said.
Kranson had come into Saturday on a 5-for-29 slide, but finally got off the schnide with two big doubles -- one to tie the game in the seventh, and another in the 11th that would be cashed in on a Nick Halamandaris grounder to first.
No. 15 Cal (21-10, 9-5 in Pac-12) evened up the series, 1-1, behind multi-hit days from seven of the nine starters, led by 4-for-6 days from Kranson and center fielder Aaron Knapp. Th Bears are now percentage points behind Utah (12-18, 8-4) for fist place in the Pac-12.
Since the final game of the Oregon State series, Knapp has raised his average from .238 to .271, and could earn back his spot atop the lineup. He's been hitting second since March 24.
"I'll look at that, for sure," Esquer said. "Sometimes you tuck someone down here a little bit, and get more production out of them, and I definitely will think about it, but I'm just glad to have the day we got out of him today. He was a lot more comfortable and a lot more offensive. I just thought he didn't seem as rushed at the plate. Sometimes, he rushes himself, and a lot of people think he jailbreaks when he runs out of the box, but he's not doing that on purpose. That's a product of him not slowing down and taking a good, solid approach on his swings."
Cal had lost three of its last five games headed into Saturday, but the Bears didn't panic.
"Internally, there wasn't a panic button being pushed," Kranson said. "We're a pretty old team, and an old lineup, and throughout our four years, or three years for the juniors, we've seen a lot of baseball. We know there's going to be a stretch where we don't get the hits in timely situations, and it's how you come out of that. I feel like, today, we'll look back, and this could be a turning point."
Blow by Blow
Bain allowed the Sun Devils (19-13, 5-9) to creep ahead in the second, when a 2-2 offering to designated hitter Sebastian Zawada leaked out over the plate for a solo home run. Bain then allowed a walk and then back-to-back singles to Daniel Williams and Gage Canning to drive home Tyler Williams, giving Arizona State a 2-0 lead.
Cal, as it did on Friday, continued to put solid metal on the ball, with Tenerowicz leading off the third with a sharp single to left, and Kranson stinging one to second, but the latter missive triggered a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.
After allowing the two runs in the second, Bain retired 11 of the next 13 batters, working around a leadoff double by Zawada in the fourth, and a two-out walk to David Greer in the fifth. Bain froze Tyler Williams for a strikeout looking in the bottom of the sixth to end the inning, one batter after he took a grounder back to the box from Zawada and recorded the out at first.
"He made two or three two-strike mistakes that got hit -- the home run was two strikes, and a couple other hits, he wasn't finishing the hitter," Esquer said. "I thought, as he went along, he got stronger, he found his slider, and that's something just to get them off of the fastball, so they could not sit on the fastball. I thought the slider got better as the day went on, and it gave him a little bit to get them off the fastball."
The Bears inched back, with Kranson ripping an RBI single through the right side to cash in a leadoff single by Preston GrandPre in the fifth, but Brenden Farney struck out with the bases loaded to end that threat.
Cal finally pulled ahead in the top of the seventh, when Celsi sent an 0-1 leadoff triple off of lefty starter Eli Lingos -- who pitched 0.2 innings of relief on Friday -- into left center. That spelled the end for Lingos, who gave way to sophomore righty Grant Schneider. Schneider needed just four pitches to retire the next two hitters -- the right-handed Devin Pearson and Tenerowicz -- and was then pulled for lefty Reagan Todd. The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder promptly gave up a game-tying double over the center fielder's head on a 2-2 offering to Kranson.
"He went with a couple fastballs, and then, I think the 1-2 pitch was a curveball down," Kranson said. "I feel like I took it pretty well, and I kind of knew that he wasn't going to go with that again, and I felt like that was the best curveball he had, so I thought they'd try to go fastball, and they went fastball middle-in. That was the first middle-in pitch I'd seen all weekend, so it was good to be able to drive that one over the center fielder's head."
Kranson came around to score when catcher Brett Cumberland cued a shot over between the legs of first baseman Greer and into left field, allowing Cumberland to reach, and Kranson to trot in to score, putting Cal up, 3-2.
"We'd missed a number of opportunities to score with contact, and even at that time, with a runner at third and two outs, we had a leadoff triple, and we didn't score the guy until we got two outs and Kranson up," Esquer said. "We were struggling all day, and have been struggling for a week or so. At Oregon, we could have scored many times just on contact, and we have not been getting that job done."
Bain exited after getting one out and allowing a first-pitch single to Canning in the seventh, but reliever Keaton Siomkin stranded Canning, striking out pinch hitter Ryan Lillard and then getting an 0-2 groundout by second baseman Andrew Snow.
A leadoff double by Nick Halamandaris, a Todd balk, and a triple by Knapp on the first pitch he saw from newly-entered reliever James Ryan put the Bears up by two, but the Sun Devils weren't done.
Siomkin allowed a six-pitch, one-out walk to pinch hitter Zach Cerbo, and after a Canning groundout moved Cerbo to second, a single to center fielder Christopher Beall brought Arizona State to within one.
Martinez -- who, in three outings since recording his seventh save in seven opportunities, has allowed 5 earned runs in 4.0 innings, with seven hits and four walks -- poured more gasoline on the fire, surrendering a Snow RBI double into the right center field gap to tie the game at 4-4. Martinez intentionally walked Greer, before getting Colby Woodmansee to fly out to center, sending the game into extra innings.
"We're watching him a little bit," Esquer said of Martinez. "There's a lot involved, confidence, and some other things, and just to show you how much confidence was part of it, Tanner Dodson has a great outing last time, and he looked as confident as he's looked all year, having command of his pitches and going right at 'em. Sometimes, it's a confidence issue."
The freshman righty -- who earned his first collegiate win on Tuesday against Cal Poly -- worked a scoreless bottom of the eleventh,working around a four-pitch walk to Cerby and a hit batter, both by Martinez.
"We still have a lot of confidence in Erik, but it's just getting him back out there for him to get it back," Esquer said.
Dodson, Martinez, Akaash Agarwal will be available on Sunday, Esquer. With seven pitchers seeing action on the Arizona State side, both teams will be running with whoever they can find. The Sun Devils have used just about every bullet in their bullpen.
"I don't think, off the top of my head, it feels like a huge advantage, and I know they tried to come at us pretty strong, left-handed, and they have enough guys to keep going left, then right for a couple, back to left, then right for a couple, so I think they've been trying that, quite a bit," Esquer said. "As the year goes on, I think we're starting to get comfortable with that left-handed pitching."