Cal's Daulton Jefferies earns first win since injury with 5.0 one-hit innings against Washington State

Why did Cal's win over Washington State have a feeling of finality to it? Was this the last time that Cal fans have seen Daulton Jefferies in a Bears uniform?

California junior right-hander and prospective first-round MLB Draft pick Daulton Jefferies told head coach David Esquer before the fifth inning against host Washington State that he had one more in him. Having already surpassed his pitch count of 60, Esquer told Jefferies he didn't need to take the mound one more time.

"I said: ‘Hey, you don’t have to do this for us. This is about your future. It’s more important than today’s game,'" Esquer said. 

On Friday, the Bears lost 4-1 to the Cougars, thanks to a bases-clearing double by catcher Stefan Van Horn -- a .207 hitter -- all but shutting the door on Cal's playoff hopes. The Bears needed to sweep the Cougars to have a reasonable shot at the postseason. All of that, Esquer said, entered into what he said to Jefferies: You don't have to. We don't need it. It won't do any good.

Nevertheless, Jefferies still took the ball and went back out, earning his first win since he returned from a two-month-long stay on the shelf thanks to a SLAP tear in his throwing shoulder, as the Bears cruised to a 7-0 victory in Pullman.

"No reason to be foolish," Esquer said. "We knew what we had to do. We put ourselves in that position, and I didn't want him to be foolish on our behalf." "I owe it to all these guys," Jefferies said of going back out for the fifth, where he needed just 10 pitches to set the Cougars down in order.

The postgame attitude -- from Esquer to Jefferies to junior reliever Alex Schick, another MLB Draft prospect who threw 4.0 innings of hitless relief with four strikeouts, to senior Brian Celsi, who drove in two runs in his first start back after spending a month on the shelf with a broken thumb -- was bittersweet, with the win seeming merely palliative.

A weak Pac-12, combined with road sweeps of a moribund Northwestern team and a self-destructing Texas team will count for little in the final calculus, and the fact that, pending Sunday's outcome, the Bears have lost six straight Pac-12 series, all weigh heavily in favor of this being the last go-around for Jefferies in a Bears uniform, and once he was finished on the hill, he hugged his catcher -- Brett Cumberland, who will likely go in the top three rounds of the June 9-11 MLB Draft as a draft-eligible sophomore -- and his head coach.

"Cumberland came up to me, and said it might be the last time we play catch together," Jefferies said. "I'm an emotional guy, so towards the last out of the inning, I was getting kind of emotional. I took a look around and embraced all of it. When I got the last out, I walked off the field and made sure to take it all in. I gave Eskie a hug, and I told him, 'Thank you,' and talked with all the guys. They've been supportive. Even when I was hurt, they were supportive of me. They're like my brothers out there, so I didn't really want to leave them, but I have to."

All that said, the Bears certainly felt like their old selves on Saturday. During the Pac-12 telecast's in-game interview of Sunday starter Ryan Mason, seniors Devin Pearson climbed aboard Jordan Talbot's back and stacked two ballcaps, a towel, two hitting donuts and a Gatorade cup atop Mason's head. Following the game, Schick's teammates each made noises or played to the camera during the postgame network interview, while Denis Karas undid the 6-foot-7 righty's belt.

On the field, Cal went 12-for-36 as a team, holding the Cougars to just a solitary double and striking out 10 Washington State hitters.

It's the loosest Cal has been since Jefferies went down, Celsi said.

"I love to see it, too, because all we can do right now is have fun, and hopefully, it gets put in the right hands," Celsi said. "For me, it could be my last two games ever. For a handful of us, it could be our last two games ever. When we have fun, we play the hardest. I'm glad that we won today, and hopefully, we'll carry it over and get Esquer's 500th [win] tomorrow."

Esquer admits to having "pushed all our chips into the middle of the table" this past Monday, pitching Mason in relief in an attempt to win the series from Pac-12 leader Utah, and that was the reason why the 6-foot-6 righty was moved to Sunday this weekend.

Winning that series and sweeping this one, ostensibly, were necessary for the Bears to get into a Regional, a possibility that, with Friday's loss, looks all but gone. But, if Cal looks on Sunday like it did on Saturday behind a now-healthy Jefferies and Schick, with Celsi also back in the mix, it could make a case for itself as a different team than the one that went just 17-13 in Jefferies's nearly-two-month absence.

"I think we did need to go in there and get a sweep," Jefferies said. "That was our mindset. When we lost the first game, it was tough, but we need to just play loose and play our game. That's when we win, and winning's a lot more fun than losing. We decided to play loose, and dress how we want -- stirrups, no stirrups, pants up, pants down -- and we went out there and played, and it showed that we had a lot of fun today. A lot of guys were jumping around in the dugout. We were that Cal baseball team that we were at the start of the year, that joked around with each other, that pulled pranks on each other. We know that Eskie's 500th is tomorrow, and what better way to get that than with Ryan Mason?"

Blow By Blow

Jefferies (7-0, 1.08 ERA) earned his first win since returning from a SLAP tear that kept him out for nearly eight weeks, and looked just like his old self in front of scouts from nearly every Major League club. Jefferies commanded his 93-94 fastball (and touched 95), painting both sides of the plate, staying down in the zone and changing eye level, mixing in a 84-88 mph change up that tumbled down out of the zone and flashing his slider to both steal strikes and get swings and misses.

As Jefferies spun, the offense -- going back to what Esquer called his "nostalgia" lineup -- got going against converted closer Ian Hamilton.

In the top of the third, Preston GrandPre sent a ground ball single through the left side, turning the lineup over for leadoff man Aaron Knapp, who promptly bunched a grounder the other way for a single of his own. After a sacrifice bunt from Pearson, senior Mitchell Kranson drove a sacrifice fly to center to put the Bears up, 1-0.

In the top of the fourth, first baseman Nick Halamandaris ripped a leadoff single back up the middle, and then, on a pickoff throw from Hamilton with Brenden Farney at the dish, advanced all the way to third. Farney then sent a fly ball to left, bringing Halamandaris home.

A single by Robbie Tenerowicz set the stage for Celsi, who yanked a change up away into the right field corner for his ninth double of the season, staking Jefferies to a 3-0 lead.

In the top of the seventh, with reliever Colby Nealy on the bump, Pearson poked a double past first baseman Patrick McGrath for a leadoff double. Kranson then sent the third pitch he saw up the middle, where shortstop Justin Harrer was handcuffed behind the bag, and bobbled the ball, putting men at the corners.

Reliever Layne Bruner flipped Cumberland from the left side to the right, but then proceeded to issue a four-pitch walk. The Cougars drew the infield in, and the gamble paid off when Halamandaris grounded into a 6-2 force at the plate. Sophomore Denis Karas, though, pinch hitting for Farney, inside-outed a 2-2 fastball in on the hands into shallow right center field to plate two.

Two batters later, Celsi -- after ducking a wild slider over his head -- drove a fastball out over the plate into center to score Halamandaris.

“I mean, I love having lefties throw above my head, but you can’t think too much," Celsi said. "Luckily, I knew he would try to over-correct, and he did, and it was nice to get barrel on the ball and get the RBI.”

Celsi finished the day 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a double.

“Pretty remarkable," Esquer said. "He had not seen a live pitch, has not hit a ball off a pitching machine, which would provide a little weight to the contact. He’s just taken coach-pitch BP, and it’s pretty remarkable what he did today.”

In the top of the ninth, after a leadoff double by Cumberland, Halamandaris sent a single to center, scoring pinch runner Tyrus Greene for the final tally.

Pre-Mortem Post-Mortem

What the Bears did on Saturday, with Schick – who missed two and a half months with a knee injury suffered the day before the opening weekend – finally healthy, throwing four no-hit innings; with Jefferies healthy, throwing five one-hit innings; and with 10 strikeouts between the two, is it too much to hope for and wish for that the committee looks at the Bears as the team they should have been, and finally are now? Or, does he look at the 17-13 stretch in the middle of the season that went far from as-planned?

“There’s a lot that didn’t go as planned,” Esquer said. “You still look at what could have been. It is a little heartbreaking. I feel bad for the kids. It breaks my heart, for them, because there was a lot of good, there. But you see how we play when Daulton’s on the mound, and we’re pretty strong there, and everyone else played a little more relaxed, and a lot more happens."

The nostalgia lineup -- with Knapp leading off, Pearson second, Kranson third, Cumberland and Halamandaris in the middle, followed by Tenerowicz, Celsi and GrandPre -- was the lineup, Esquer said, that was supposed to win a lot of games. Without Jefferies, Esquer said, there was a feeling of have to, as opposed to a feeling of get to. Perhaps there was a feeling -- in the locker room and in the coaching offices -- that went from can do to can't do.

“When he’s not around, we play a lot more stressed and tense, and with a lot more have-to, and we don’t play as well," Esquer said. "And, it’s not just about Daulton, that he wins the game for us. It’s us, together, with Daulton, is a pretty good team. It’s not that you can stick Daulton with any group of players, and he’ll win. I don’t think that that’s the case. I think him playing with our guys is a pretty good team.

“It rolls right into that Ryan Mason is a better pitcher, and then our Sunday guy, he may be in position to either win the series or sweep the series, and that takes pressure off of him. It puts everyone in their right place.”

The Bears finish the regular season at 2 p.m., on Sunday, with Mason on the hill. Top Stories