Against UCLA, the Bears squandered two 4-0 leads, and lost 9-4 and 9-5, with barely a whimper of protest on offense. Against Stanford on Monday, once again, a big swing from Vaughn -- an RBI double -- put Cal ahead, only for an eight-run fourth to scuttle the Bears.
On Friday, a first-inning two-run home run by Vaughn -- his eighth on the season -- and a two-run double in the third had the Bears up, 5-0, against Arizona State, with starter Eli Lingos having lasted just 16 pitches, and 0.2 innings. Still, though, the Sun Devils managed to plate one unearned run off of Cal starter Jared Horn, and then rally off of a botched strike three call in the ninth to plate five more. That rally, though, fell short, as closer Erik Martinez got the final two outs to preserve a 9-6 win.
"It got a little hairy there, at the end," said head coach David Esquer. "It wasn't because of our defense. We just didn't throw strikes, and we gave them more momentum than we needed to."
Sometimes, Esquer said, growing up is uncomfortable, and it was on Friday for the underclassmen-laden Bears (13-14, 5-5 in Pac-12). Cal cruised into the ninth up 9-1, thanks to Vaughn (3-for-4, R, 4 RBI); a 3-for-3, 2-RBI day from Jeffrey Mitchell and the first collegiate home run for Ripken Reyes, but in the ninth, the Bears nearly gave up the ghost.
Freshman lefty Arman Sabouri -- who's given up 8 earned runs in his last two appearances, while getting just one out -- wore his third straight rocky outing.
Center fielder Andrew Shaps battled through seven pitches against Sabouri, before sending a fly ball into the left center field gap. A diving try by Davis only pushed the ball onto the warning track, for a leadoff triple. Sabouri then walked pinch hitter Tyler Williams on five pitches. In a steady downpour, Sabouri uncorked a wild pitch inside to pinch hitter Andrew Snow to score Shaps. As Sabouri finally looked to regain his footing, striking out Snow, his 1-2 back foot breaking ball actually hit Snow's back foot, on a check swing. Greene could not find the ball because of that ricochet. By rule, that should have been a dead ball (Rule 7-11-k in the NCAA rulebook), but instead, Snow advanced to second, as the ball kicked to the Cal dugout, and another run scored to make it 9-3.
Vaughn then came to the mound with a 1-0 count on pinch hitter Myles Denson and promptly set him down on strikes after falling behind 3-0. Vaughn then fell behind shortstop Carter Aldrete 2-0, and served up an RBI double off the base of the wall in right center. A bunt single by right fielder Gage Canning up the third base line put men at the corners, and sent Vaughn back to the dugout to grab his first baseman's mitt.
Martinez came on, and after a five-pitch battle with catcher Sam Ferri, left a fastball out over the plate and allowed a double to the left-center field gap, driving in two, and bringing the tying run to the on-deck circle. Martinez, though, was able to get a harmless fly out to left, and a pop out to third on just four more pitches, ending the rally.
Horn had arguably his best outing of the year, going 7.0 innings without walking a single batter (though he did have six three-ball counts). Horn had 23 walks in 32.0 innings of work coming into Friday.
"Offense got rolling early today, so that took some weight off my shoulders," said Horn. "Mentally, it was the same start. My fastball command and the feel for my curveball has improved from the first couple starts. I'm feeling confident with all my stuff."
After being taken out after just 80 pitches and 1 earned run against UCLA, Esquer allowed Horn to throw 114 pitches in a win over Washington State, and then 107 against the Sun Devils. Of those 107, 69 were strikes. He sat 89-93 with his fastball, and touched 94.
"A couple weeks ago, I second-guessed myself and took him out of a game, where he had a little trouble, but probably not enough to go get him," Esquer said. "I came back after that week and said, 'You know what, I'm not going to come get you anymore. Unless you're throwing 40 pitches in an inning, I'm going to let you run, and you're going to decide it for us.'"
"He's growing, and you can see it," Esquer said of Horn, who's improved steadily since moving to the Friday-night role against the Bruins. "He wasn't capable of doing that his first time out, his second time out, but he's been able to do that, and that's part of the maturity process. He's getting more comfortable out there, and that's huge for us."
Horn worked his curveball down to get swings and misses, and up to steal strikes, while changing eye level with his fastball, setting the tone in the early goings. Horn allowed just three hits -- including an infield single in the fourth on a diving stop by Reyes, who couldn't quite glove the grounder off the bat of Lyle Lin.
"All his pitches, all his pitches were more comfortable," Esquer said. "That's something we have to have."
Tanner Dodson had an effective inning out of the bullpen in the eighth, in his second weekend in relief since losing his Friday-night starter roll, needing just 12 pitches in the top of the eighth and working around a leadoff double by Canning.
Cal's first four hitters went 8-for-15 on the day.
Blow by Blow
After a looping leadoff single to shallow center by catcher Tyrus Greene, and a sacrifice bunt from Mitchell, Vaughn socked a 1-2 fastball out over the plate over the left field wall. Vaughn's eighth circuit shot of the season has him atop the Pac-12 in that category.
After a line drive single to center by third baseman Denis Karas, then a bunt up the third base line by Dodson, which rode the grass ridge and stayed just fair for a single, then a hard shot to center for a line out off the bat of Jonah Davis, Arizona State manager Tracy Smith had seen enough out of Lingos, who had suffered from the flu during most of the week.
Eder Erives took over, and retired Max Flower on a fastball up to end the first, but Cal wasn't quite done.
After Horn burned through the Sun Devils in order in the top of the second, Reyes led off the bottom of the frame with a single up the middle off the glove of a diving Taylor Lane. After a one-out walk to Greene, Mitchell banged a single through the left side to plate Greene, and then rode home himself on a 1-1 double into the right field corner on a fastball away by Vaughn, who's now hitting .379 on the season. Vaughn showed off his quick wrists on the double, the product of how long he leaves his bat in the zone.
Vaughn almost had another hit in the fourth, ripping a shot to third that set up a 5-3 double play on a would-be double down the third base line.
Arizona State stole a run in the top of the third, when Canning hit a shot off of Horn's glove for an infield single, stole second, took third on a curve that got by Greene and then rode home on a groundout to short by Jeremy McCuin.
Cal got eight hits in the first three innings, but only six after that against Erives. One of those was a 3-1 leadoff home run in the sixth off the bat of Reyes who came into the game hitting just .151, but blistered a fastball at the knees off of the canvas stretched between the pillars of Edwards Track Stadium in left center. Reyes reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk. The home run was the first of Reyes's college career.
Later in the frame, a line-drive double on a curve at the knees by Cameron Eden was cashed in by Mitchell, who sent a sacrifice fly to center, after Greene moved him to third with a groundout to second.
Mitchell led off the bottom of the eighth with a first-pitch single off of reliever Chris Isbell, and took third as Vaughn rang a hanging breaking ball back up the middle on the second pitch he saw from the sophomore righty. With one out, Dodson bounced a sharp grounder to short for the force, but it was enough for Mitchell to trot home.
After stealing second, Dodson rode home on an RBI double ripped into the right field corner by Jonah Davis, his seventh two-bagger of the season.
Arizona State freshman lefty Chaz Montoya (2-1, 4.63 ERA), who has moved from a closing roll into the starting rotation, will face right-hander Joey Matulovich (3-0, 3.40) at noon on Saturday, a game that will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks. Matulovich has walked 9 to 26 strikeouts, while Montoya has walked 9 to 24. Opposing hitters are batting .286 against Montoya, and .241 against the sophomore Matulovich.