When California senior righty Ryan Mason arrived at George Bush International Airport in Houston -- after a 4 a.m. wake-up call in College Station, and driving to Houston Hobby International Airport on the other side of the city -- following the end of the Bears' playoff run last year, he was angry. He was hot. He was steamed. He was ready to leave Berkeley.
Then, his mind changed. He realized that he had one more year to make a difference, one more year to get to Omaha.
So, with Cal's playoff chances balancing on a razor's edge, with the Bears having lost 12 of their last 19, on Thursday, Mason went into the baseball offices in the basement of Haas Pavilion and demanded the ball. He would be up for anything, he said, as long as it got the Bears to the Promised Land of the postseason. If that meant closing games, he was up for it. If that meant coming out of the bullpen for middle relief after starting the same weekend, he was up for it.
"It was painful being at the airport, and not being the team that advances. It's my senior year, and 12 other guys' last year on this team, and we're going to give everything we possibly can to get there again, and get another opportunity," Mason said. "We want to do something great."
"Like I've said: One of the most competitive, if not the most competitive, players I've been around," head coach David Esquer said. "It didn't surprise me."
Northwestern -- Cal's host this weekend -- may be 13-34 on the season, but the Bears -- a mainstay of the top 25 all season, until two weeks ago -- have seen their fortunes wane considerably over the second half of the season, losing five straight series.
Cal needed something this weekend in Evanston, Ill., and that something was Mason, who threw 86 pitches over 6.0 shutout innings, striking out 10 and allowing three hits and no walks in a 16-0 win to kick off a four-game series.
The win was Mason's 25th, now good for third-best for a career, all-time, at Cal.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1643615-all-aboard-the-cra... "It's important, and it was really good to come out, in this manner, and kind of play like us again," Mason said. "I've got to give a lot of credit to the offense, doing something that I've never been a part of, and that's scoring in very single frame."
The Bears took the first game of a four-game set against the Wildcats, scoring in every inning for the first time in head coach David Esquer's tenure at Berkeley. Cal (26-18) scored at least one run in each of the first seven innings for the first time since a 21-8 win over Loyola Marymount in 2008.
"We were joking, on the bench, that I think that's a perfect game, for hitters," Mason said. "It was incredible. It's always nice to win the first one, and when you win it so decisively, it gives you a little confidence for the rest of the series."
Esquer, though, was quick to caution that the Wildcats will come out hard on Sunday, in the first half of a 9 a.m.-12 p.m. doubleheader against freshman Tanner Dodson.
"They're going to be a different team coming out tomorrow than they were today," Esquer said. "Mason was really good. It's not that they can't hit or can't score; Mason was really good. [Dodson] has to have multiple pitches. That's what made Mason tough to hit today -- when we called for him to get a guy out with two or three straight change ups, Mason's able to do that. When the call is to get a guy out with two straight sliders, he was able to do that. If he needed to mix pitches, Mason was able to do that. If we get backed into a corner where we have to call all fastballs because [Dodson] can't control his secondary pitches, they're a better team, much better than they played today."
The Bears got two, two-home run days from senior Devin Pearson and sophomore switch-hitting catcher Brett Cumberland. The pair each went deep on solo shots in the third, putting Cal up 4-0, and then slammed a brace of two-run homers in the sixth to make it 10-0.
"We're looking to get something, and it doesn't matter against who," Esquer said of his Bears, who rattled off 18 hits. "We want to find some game rhythm, having success when the game is ours, and we haven't had a whole lot of that, recently. Hopefully, we're relaxing down a little bit."
"I want the ball. Anything to win us some games, and to get us a chance at the playoffs, that's what I need to do. I'm really happy that we're even in this position, because it gives us a chance, and we've got to think of it like a chance, to make the playoffs. Everyone's going to be pushing, and doing everything they can to win some games here." -- Ryan Mason
Pearson was hitting .227 after a midweek game against Cal Poly on April 26, but since then, he's rattled off a seven-game hitting streak, and, including Saturday, has gone 12-for-28 (.429) over that span. He tore off a streak of production similar to this at this point last year, going 31-for-74 (.419) with two home runs, 10 RBI, 16 runs scored and six walks in the final 19 games, from April 25 on.
"It's the injustice of the game of baseball, that no one deserved to be healthy and have a year as Devin Pearson did, and it was bad timing," Esquer said of Pearson, who's struggled with a left shoulder that just won't get healthy after an offseason procedure. "He cares about our team and the outcome, and with that shoulder injury, he just hasn't been healthy, but he hasn't backed down one inch."
The 18 hits the Bears tallied were the third-most they've had this season, and the most since a 20-hit attack against Arizona State on April 16.
Cumberland went 3-for-4 with four RBIs, and two home runs, after entering the game on a 2-for-22 slide. He's now hitting .548 (23-for-42) with 18 RBI when Mason is on the bump. Cumberland now has a team-leading 12 multi-RBI games on the season, and his 16th multi-hit game.
"He's hitting .548 with 18 ribbies and six bombs when I pitch," Mason said. "I've got to buy the kid dinner, because that's a performance that I've never even seen."
Third baseman Mitchell Kranson went 2-for-3 with three runs scored, for his team-leading 17th multi-hit game of the season. He's now recorded a hit in six straight games.
In all, five Bears tallied multi-hit days, including outfielder Sean Peters, who went 2-for-4 in his first start of the season, with two runs and two RBIs -- both coming on a triple in the top of the eighth, which scored Denis Karas and Preston GrandPre, who had scored Kranson with a two-out double earlier in the frame. GrandPre went 2-for-6. Pearson went 3-for-5 with two runs and three RBIs in the first multi-home run game of his career.
Esquer went back to a lineup much more reminiscent of the start of the season, with Aaron Knapp hitting first, and Pearson hitting second.
"We're getting down to it, and this was the lineup that was supposed to perform for us," Esquer said. "We're going to go back to it one more time to turn it around. The numbers don't dictate that it's the best batting order that you should be hitting -- the on-base numbers don't dictate that this is the best batting order that you should be hitting, but when we started, those were the people we were counting on."
Robbie Tenerowicz did have an 11-game hitting streak going, but he went 0-for-4 on the afternoon, hitting third.
Mason faced a spot of trouble in the bottom of the third, when he allowed a leadoff single to Jake Schieber, before rolling up a 5-4-3 double play and striking out senior Zach Jones to end the inning. He had previously retired six straight before Schieber.
In the next frame, a high chopper to third by Jack Dunn forced a rushed throw by Kranson, which pulled Nick Halamandaris off the first base bag. Mason got two more outs, before Dunn stole second. He was then able to get a swinging strikeout by Joe Hoscheit -- who came in hitting .291 with 29 RBIs -- to end the inning.
In the fifth, after striking out the first two hitters, Mason allowed two one-out seeing-eye singles to Schieber and RJ Watters, before rolling up a groundout to third by sophomore Mat Jones.
"Mason picked us up," Esquer said. "Lately, when we've made a mistake, we've paid for it. It was his pitching that got us out of that jam."
In the next frame, Knapp led off with a single, and rode home on Pearson's two-run homer to center. Following a Tenerowicz fly out, Kranson singled through the right side, and rode home on Cumberland's blast, which hit off of the Northwestern football training center, about 50 feet beyond the left field wall, and was hit so hard, that it bounced back onto the field of play, after bouncing off of a concrete walkway beyond the fence.
"It went about 30 or 40 feet up the building, and I think it was more than 50 feet beyond the wall," said Mason, who was sitting on the bench. "He got a lot of that. The umpire and the catcher said that was the furthest ball they've ever seen hit at that stadium."
"I think that's as far as I've seen one hit," Esquer said. "It was even more impressive when he hit one to right-center field right-handed, which he hadn't done. Both of those were really impressive, and looked like he was back, dialed in, to what he had been before."
It was the first time this year that Cumberland has hit home runs from both sides of the plate, as his first shot was an opposite field blast off of lefty Reed Martin. It was also Cumberland's second multi-homer game of the season. He now leads the Pac-12 with 14 round-trippers on the campaign.
After Mason finished his work, freshman right Aaron Shortridge threw one scoreless inning, walking two and striking out one, while submarining Jordan Talbot faced the minimum in his 2.0 innings of work, allowing just one walk and nothing else.
Freshman shortstop Ripken Reyes went 1-for-1 in late-inning duty, scoring a run and socking a double. Freshman catcher Tyrus Greene also went 1-for-1, as did freshman outfielder Jonah Davis. Karas, who started in left, and then moved to third, went 1-for-2 with two runs and a double.