BERKELEY -- California sophomore Tanner Dodson had just 2 hits in his last four games. The Bears had only mustered 4 hits over the first 6.0 innings against visiting San Francisco on Tuesday evening. So, facing a Dons staff with bedeviling breaking balls, Dodson figured he'd just find a way to put bat on ball: With a surprise push bunt.
On the first pitch he saw from reliever Joey Steele, with one out in the bottom of the seventh, the left-handed hitting Dodson laid down a surprise drag a bunt up the first-base line. Steele sprung off the mound and tried to barehand the ball, but couldn't get a clean handle on it. After fumbling around with the ball in the grass, Steele threw wide to first, and into right field. Dodson made the turn, and alertly sprinted for second. As he took his first steps, Dodson had to get around second baseman Michael Perri, who was backing up first. Though the throw from right field to second was on-time, second-base umpire Billy Haze called obstruction on Perri.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1775708-highlights-cal-shu..."I was just trying to get on base," Dodson said. "We needed a run. I looked over and the first baseman was playing back. I've been working on it."
Dodson would ride home on a flare single to center by designated hitter Matt Ruff, giving the Bears all they would need in a 1-0 win over San Francisco, Cal's first shutout of the season, with closer Erik Martinez earning his sixth save.
"That was him -- I'm not going to take any credit for it," head coach David Esquer said of the bunt. "I wish I could, and you guys would believe me, but he was just looking for a way to get on. He put the bunt down on his own."
The Bears (21-21) are the third-worst pitching staff in the league, and after allowing 7 runs a week ago to the Dons (22-24), Cal needed to find some kind of pitching rhythm. That's exactly what the Bears did, as a sextet of Cal pitchers held San Francisco to just 3 hits.
"How many pitchers were we able to pat on the rear end and say, 'Way to go, nice job'? Six of 'em," Esquer said. "They did some positive things on the mound. We're looking to stabilize that. Martinez was really good on the weekend for us, and won that game, so big to get a lot of one innings and two innings from a lot of different guys."
In other words, Tuesday was a palate cleanser for the Bears, who are fresh off a 1-2 weekend against Washington -- losing a series in Seattle for the first time since 2009 -- and have No. 1 Oregon State looming in Corvallis this weekend.
Cal is 5-15 away from Evans Diamond, and will be heading into the most hostile territory in the Pac-12 -- perhaps on the West Coast -- this weekend. A win -- especially a get-right game for two bullpen arms -- is just what the doctor ordered for a team starting just two upperclassmen in the field.
Freshman lefty starter Arman Sabouri had allowed 12 earned runs over his last four outings, spanning just 2.1 innings of work. He allowed 2 hits and struck out 1 in 2.0 innings on Tuesday.
"We gave him a couple weeks off, and he wasn't even in any of our plans for two weeks," Esquer said. "We got him working on things on the side, and Thomas [Eager] felt like he made some adjustments that were worth getting a look at today, and he did a nice job."
Sabouri showed good arm-side run with his fastball, was able to throw his slider for strikes and mixed in a few change ups to get some swings and misses. He had not yet used his off speed effectively this season.
Sophomore righty Aaron Shortridge came back after a week to face the same Dons he faced in his first outing back, after missing seven weeks with arm tenderness. He threw a clean inning with a strikeout on the Hilltop seven days ago, and allowed one hit in 2.0 frames of work on Tuesday. Shortridge was aided by some sparkling defense from shortstop Cameron Eden, who at one point recorded four straight put-outs, and even was able to wrangle a tough hop as his spikes slid out from underneath him.
The Bears allowed just three baserunners through the first 4.0 innings, but when Zayne Patino came on to pitch the fifth, he walked the first man he saw -- Aaron Ping -- on five pitches. Free bases have been the biggest bugaboo for Cal this season, with 198 walks in 361.1 innings headed into the evening (third-most in the Pac-12).
But, once again, it was Eden to the rescue. The freshman infielder fought off a handcuffing sharp grounder up the middle from Matt Sinatro to start an inning-ending double play.
"When the ball's in his hand, he's an accurate thrower, and you don't worry once a ball's in his glove," Esquer said. "He made some really nice plays, and he made some nice plays in Washington, off that turf, too."
As Cal went with a Dick Wholestaff approach, San Francisco got a gem of a start from junior lefty Sam Granoff. Granoff allowed just 2 hits over 5.0 innings of work, using a soap-bubble curve to keep the Bears off balance, forcing weak contact and letting his defense work. That defense included a diving snare by right fielder Ping, robbing Ruff of a flare single in the bottom of the fifth.
"Sam Granoff has made a career out of pitching against us, he really has," Esquer said. "The numbers don't say that he's going to be that effective, but he's effective every time [against] us. I don't know if it's the style of pitcher, or if we just get a little anxious. He's been tough on us for two years now."
Granoff, though, opened a window in the bottom of the sixth, only for the Bears to slam it shut on their own fingers.
Granoff started things off by allowing a first-pitch single to left by catcher Korey Lee, who moved to second when Eden -- who'd been saving Cal's bacon with his glove all evening -- sacrificed Lee to second, placing a bunt perfectly to the right of the mound with third baseman Allen Smoot crashing, keeping the play to the right side of the field.
Junior second baseman Preston GrandPre then sent a 3-1 grounder to the left side, but after a valiant diving stop by Smoot, the Dons third baseman threw high and wide to first, pulling Ross Puskarich off the bag. GrandPre, though, had already reached, putting men at the corners for the heart of the lineup.
Steele threw his second pitch to right fielder Jeffrey Mitchell up and in on a would-be suicide squeeze, and catcher Dominic Miroglio was able to hang his counter part up in a run-down. During the commotion, GrandPre took second. A throw to cut him off wound up bringing Lee back to the third base bag, where he and GrandPre met, and GrandPre was tagged out on a 1-2-5-1-2-3-4 caught stealing. Mitchell struck out to end the inning, leaving the dangerous Andrew Vaughn in the on-deck circle.
"On a Tuesday where it was a bit of underwater baseball, nobody was really scoring, it was kind of sluggish," Esquer said. "The pitching looked good, but just not a lot of offense. We were trying to score, and force the issue a little bit. I don't think we've squeezed all year, so we put it on to see if it would work. I thought it was a buntable pitch; he just didn't get bunt down, and then we're kind of hung out to dry."
While the attempted bunt may have bit the Bears in the sixth, Cal went back to the well in the seventh, with a surprise push bunt from Dodson setting the stage for the first run of the game.
Ruff broke through against Steele, looping one of his big breakers into center on a 1-1 count with two outs in the bottom of the seventh for the winning tally.
"The first time we saw him, he threw a lot of curveballs to us, and we all knew that," Ruff said. "I was sitting curveball, saw the first one for a strike, and then, from Denis [Karas]'s at-bat, he tripled up, so I knew I was going to get a curveball 1-1, so I put a nice swing on it."
Martinez issued a one-out walk and then a two-out free pass in the top of the ninth, before getting Perri to ground out to third to end the game. Right-handed reliever Andrew Buckley got the win, going 1.1 perfect frames and striking out 1 on 18 pitches. Buckley came on with two outs in the top of the sixth with a 1-0 count against catcher Dominic Miroglio, and got a short-hop grounder to Karas to end the frame, before pitching a 1-2-3 seventh. Buckley has now allowed just 2 earned runs in his last 9.0 innings of work, over 7 appearances.