BERKELEY -- Both California and Oregon starters threw more than 50 pitches before the seats were warm in the top of the fourth, but only one -- the Ducks' Matt Mercer -- would come out the other side. After giving up a first-pitch, two-run home run to first baseman Andrew Vaughn in the bottom of the first, Mercer powered through 5.2 more innings, allowing precisely one more hit and allowing no more runs, earning the 13-2 win.
"Not really chewing [them out]," Esquer said. "Hey, it's a steep learning curve at this level. At that level of competition, whether it's the Texas Tech's of the world, the Oregon's of the world, that's a level you've got to figure it out. You've got to figure out how to compete at that level and come out to the park and play."
Mercer finished with 6.0 innings under his belt, allowing three hits and two runs with two strikeouts, walking two and throwing 90 pitches (61 strikes).
Those three hits (including a fourth off of reliever Zack Noll -- a single by freshman Conner Bock) were all the Bears (8-9, 0-2 in Pac-12) could muster -- including Vaughn's fourth round-tripper of the season -- after 13 in the series opener. Cal had just two hits after the first inning.
"You hate to keep saying it, and we're going to lose this excuse fairly soon, but it's mental," Esquer said. "The fact is, I thought we had them on their heels a little bit, after two innings."
After a one-out double by sophomore Jeffrey Mitchell and Vaughn's tater, the Bears didn't get another hit until Mitchell rapped out a single to lead off the sixth, with three hard line-outs in the first three innings.
"I thought we'd barreled a number of balls up," Esquer said. "Coming off a game on Friday where we out-hit them, I really felt like we had them feeling like, 'How are we going to hold them back? They're continuing to hit,' and yet the nine spot, between walks, down counts, having to pitch count-predictable, created some of the base hits."
The young Cal team -- with just one upperclassman starter -- met their demise in characteristic fashion, with a bad turn at second base by the Bears' freshman middle infield in the top of the third allowing the floodgates to open. Oregon sent 12 men to the plate in a 9-run third -- the Ducks' biggest frame of the season, by five runs -- and racked up 8 hits, taking advantage of 2 Cal errors.
Oregon had scored 9 runs in an inning only once before in the modern era --in the first inning against Portland on April 8, 2014.
Bears starter Jared Horn loaded the bases on 18 pitches, getting just one out before cleanup hitter Gabe Matthews came to the dish, and sent a would-be double play grounder to second. Anthony Walters's toss to Cameron Eden at the bag pulled his fellow freshman off the base, and to add insult to injury, Eden's throw to first was not in time, and two runs came around to score.
A chopper to the right side by A.J. Balta forced a quick toss to a running Horn at first by Vaughn, but that, too, was late, allowing another run to score. A wild pitch and a single by Dyer later, and the Ducks had put up a four-spot in the top of the third off of Horn.
"It's up 2-0, and you're feeling pretty good. If you can keep shutting them down, we're going to put some hits on the board, and it's going to be a different game," Esquer said. "You walk the bases loaded and don't turn a double play, and all of the sudden, a couple of the hits that people saw as lucky, they really were [due to] the fact that you were just forced into [being] pitch-predictable by the count. You gave them a chance to be successful."
Horn wasn't able to throw his curveball for strikes consistently, and wasn't getting calls high in the zone, or on the inner half, with his curve.
"It was 100 percent location," Esquer said. "It was just the miss. Your job is to adjust to the umpire, as well, and he couldn't get it lower, forced to throw more fastballs, and even Jared Horn -- I don't care how hard he throws, and he's been up to 94, 95 -- even Jared Horn, in college baseball, can't survive on one pitch."
The Cal freshman was pulled for another first-year hurler in Arman Sabouri, but he promptly served up an RBI single to catcher Tim Susnara, who yanked a soft liner to right, and took second on the throw from right to third. Spencer Steer got a gift when Eden bobbled his grounder to short, allowing yet another run to score, and putting men at the corners with one out.
"Susnara lines a ball into left field, because we're going to throw a fastball there," Esquer said. "There's no other pitch to go to."
Oregon leading hitter Kyle Kasser then took advantage of sidearming southpaw Sabouri, placing a perfect bunt to Sabouri's left -- the opposite direction from which he falls off the mound -- and brought home the Ducks' seventh run. Five pitches later, center fielder Jake Bennett sent a two-run single to right.
Kasser has 9 multi-hit games this season, and has reached base in every game this season. He finished 2-for-6, one of five multi-hit days for the Ducks. Bennett went 3-for-6, his second three-hit day in a row.
"A couple mistakes on the infield -- don't step on first base, a guy wheeling from second on a double play ball -- all of the sudden, that happens, and half an inning later, he turns into Cy Young," Esquer said of Mercer. "He was pretty ordinary for two, and that's mental. That's not physical. He didn't change. He didn't throw one mile an hour harder. I think they just got beat a little bit, beat up, and their heads dropped."
The Ducks added a run in the fourth on a two-out triple from Steer, and three more in the top of the eighth, when reliever Andrew Buckley hit Kenyon Yovan with the bases loaded and one out, to bring Slade Heggen home. Buckley then bowed in favor of Ian Lutz, who got a groundout to first at the expense of another run, and then took a Kasser line shot off the leg to bring home another.
"The mechanical part is, we didn't pitch well enough," said Esquer, whose Bears have now given up 20 runs in the last two games, after giving up just 16 runs over the previous five. "Jared is capable of much better, and over the course of the last two days, we just haven't pitched at a high enough level to keep the game as close as we needed to be, so that our offense could put ourselves in position to win the game."
Cal returns to action on Sunday trying to salvage one game of a series, with sophomore righty Joey Matulovich on the mound. Last time out, Matulovich struck out 10 Pepperdine hitters down in Malibu, Calif. Matulovich is 2-0 on the year, with a 3.98 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.
"As a competitor, they either cannot wait to get out here tomorrow, and I hope that's who they are, and that's who I think they are, or there's a feeling of, 'It doesn't matter. We could play them 20 times, and the result's going to be the same. We could have a five-run lead in the eighth, and they score six in the ninth and they take the game from us,'" Esquer said. "I believe they're the type of team that can't wait to come back out here. That's what you want: Give us another crack at it. And, if tomorrow doesn't turn out the way we want it, then you want, 'I hope we see them again, and I can't wait to play someone like them.' You just want another chance, in order to figure that out. That's what this crew will figure out. Tanner Dodson's going to ahve an outing, where you're going to forget the Friday-night outing against Oregon. Jared Horn's going to have an outing where we're going to be like, 'God, remember that nine-run inning versus Oregon? How did that happen?' They're going to improve to that level. We just have to get them there."