BERKELEY -- Despite coming back to tie Arizona twice on Saturday night, after midnight, No. 18 California turned into a pumpkin as reliever Alex Schick -- making his season debut off of a knee injury -- surrendered a three-run home run in the top of the 13th inning by Ryan Aguilar, spelling the end for the Bears in an 8-5 loss.
For the second time in two games, Cal (22-13, 9-8 in Pac-12) was dealt two interference calls, with one of them calling off a would-be game-winning suicide squeeze in the bottom of the 12th.
After Pac-12 Triple Crown leader Brett Cumberland walked to start the frame, and pinch runner Tyrus Greene was bunted over to second by freshman infielder Ripken Reyes, freshman outfielder Jeffrey Mitchell lined a single up the middle to put men on first and third for senior Brian Celsi.
The veteran right fielder immediately laid down a suicide squeeze bunt, bringing home Greene, and ostensibly winning the game, 6-5, but after Celsi and the rest of the Bears had already started celebrating, the home plate umpire ruled that Celsi had stepped on the plate as he bunted, with his back (left) foot. Replays were inconclusive.
"That's the game," said head coach David Esquer. "We're struggling as it is. We needed a lift, something, or a break."
"I got the suicide sign, I got a good pitch to do it with, I did it, and then that first base chest bumping with Devin Pearson, and then the next thing I know, the first base ump is like, 'No, dude, you're out,'" Celsi said. "Home plate umpire says I'm out. Honestly, I don't know. I can't wait to look at the replay. It's a bold call to make, right there. They did a great job all day, but that's a tough call to make with the game on the line like that. I was completely blindsided by it. I didn't think I was on the plate."
The Bears have now dropped three straight conference series since ace Daulton Jefferies went down with injury.
"What can you say? What can you say? All you know is that you're 9-8 and over .500 in this league and you've got a big game tomorrow, and you've got to get yourself to 10-8," Esquer said. "This league is a mess because everybody's beating each other."
Arizona has won five of its last six games, and has won two straight Pac-12 series.
"The streak they're on, we've been there before, and we've got to get through this tough time so we can get back to playing good baseball again. We'll get back to where we're on that side of it, but we've got to make sure that we tread a little water while we're doing it, and don't give too much away."
In the bottom of the seventh, with Arizona up, 4-3, second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz bounced an 0-1 single up the middle -- his third hit of the day. Senior Mitchell Kranson then sent a bouncer up the middle, and as shortstop Cody Ramer came across the back of the bag, Tenerowicz raised his arms. Ramer mis-handled the ball and overthrew first, allowing both runners to advance into scoring position. After a confab, the umpiring crew ruled that Tenerowicz had, by raising his hands, interfered with the play, and was out, ending the inning with Cumberland coming to the plate.
"We're getting all the breaks in the opposite direction," Esquer said. "They're going against us. Umpire sees a runner wave in the face of an infielder. I've never seen that before. Then, stepping on home plate. Yesterday, we get an interference on a throw to second and we run down the line, and they say we're inside the line. Some crazy stuff."
In the bottom of the ninth, Tenerowicz did manage to tie the game up at 4-4, ripping a line-drive single into left center field to bring home double play partner Preston GrandPre, who went 3-for-5 in the nine slot.
Tenerowicz, though, choked off a potential bigger rally, when, with two outs in the inning, and a 1-0 count on Cumberland -- the Pac-12's leading home run hitter -- he took off on a ball in the dirt, close to catcher Ryan Haug, and took second. That opened up first, and Arizona starter J.C. Cloney dealt two more pitches wide to intentionally walk the switch-hitting slugger. A fly ball to left off the bat of Mitchell ended the inning, sending the game into extra innings, where the Bears were 2-1 on the year.
"That wasn't called. We really wanted to hold him at first, because we knew that once we took second base, they were probably going to walk Cumberland," Esquer said. "We wanted him to hit. That was ill-advised."
Closer Erik Martinez -- who came on in the sixth with two on and one out -- tossed a career-high 5.0 innings, striking out a career-best seven and threw a career-high 81 pitches.
"We kind of decided we were going to flip him and give him a lot more work until he got his stride back, and we were going to flip it and use Keaton [Siomkin] at the end, and see if we could get Erik going again," Esquer said. "That's more extended than you'd like, but he was up for the work, and kept asking to go back out."
Martinez had not started since high school, but gave what equated to a starting outing on Saturday.
"My name was called, and I gave it as much as I had for as long as I could," said Martinez, who's used to coming on in the eighth or ninth, not the sixth. "It's definitely different, but I can't let that affect me. My job is to pitch when my name is called."
Martinez's outing followed up an uninspiring outing from starter Jeff Bain (2.0 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 K) that saw the Wildcats sprint out to a 3-0 lead, and what had been three scoreless innings from freshman Joey Matulovich.
After allowing one hit and one walk, while striking out three, Matulovich dealt a leadoff free pass to Bobby Dalbec, and then a sacrifice bunt to Haug. Martinez came in, and with his second pitch, allowed a line-drive single to center to shortstop Louis Boyd. The throw from center fielder Aaron Knapp came in weakly, and bunny-hopped over Cumberland at the plate after not being cut off, giving the Wildcats the 4-3 lead.
"It was a ball meant to be low and away, and I got it away, but not as low as I should have," Martinez said.
Martinez's fastball and slider worked well for him on Saturday, and he mixed in his curve more than usual as a counterpoint to his hard slider.
Martinez would go on to walk the bases loaded, after striking out bunter extraordinaire Justin Behnke, but then got a called strike three on the outside corner against first baseman J.J. Matijevic to end the threat, going on to strike out five of the next 12 batters, before surrendering a line drive over third for a double by Boyd in the 11th, and then a perfectly-placed bunt by Behnke up the first base line to move Boyd to second.
Reliever Keaton Siomkin got second baseman Cody Ramer to strike out swinging on a ball in the dirt, but to record the out, Cumberland had to throw to first. As soon as he did, Boyd sprinted home to put Arizona up, 5-4.
In the very next half inning, though, Tenerowicz -- who finished 4-for-7 with four RBIs -- took a 1-1 offering from Dalbec over the scoreboard in left field for a solo home run -- his third of the season -- and tying the game up, again. Earlier, Tenerowicz had also played a key roll in a two-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the third, with a fly ball to center that got lost in the lights, falling for a fly-ball double to the right of Behnke. Two innings later, Tenerowicz ripped a line drive under the glove of Dalbec -- then playing third -- for a double. Kranson then sent a sacrifice fly to left to tie things at 3-3.
The top of the 13th saw Schick enter, after Siomkin gave up back-to-back one-out singles. Having not pitched all season due to a knee injury, Schick wasn't slated to go until Tuesday, but he pushed to make his debut on Saturday. Five pitches in, the 6-foot-7 righty served up a three-run home run off the foul pole in right to Aguilar, and did not look much more comfortable after that, with two foul balls that were stroked hard, and a fly ball to the wall in center that forced Knapp up and into the barrier.
"Who knows if he was ready?" Esquer said. "He volunteered to go down there. He said, 'Hey, coach, I want to go. If we need me.' That was a roll of the dice, and his velocity wasn't very good when he was on the field. He's thrown a couple bullpens, and you roll the dice, there."
Schick will likely be held out Tuesday.
Lefty Akaash Agarwal then came on, and got the final out of the inning by getting Boyd to pop out to first.
Cal takes on Arizona again on Sunday at 1 p.m., with Matt Ladrech on the mound. Dalbec was slated to go on Sunday, but since he went 5.2 innings in relief, striking out three and walking five, allowing two runs on four hits, he will not make the start.