How’s that for a comeback?
Comeback wins always feel good, but they really hit the spot when they come at the expense of that school across the Bay, and when it comes after Cal had Stanford down to its last strike – well, that’s just icing on the cake.
After a Matt Winaker leadoff double in the ninth, a strange decision (by Mark Marquess standards) not to bunt the tying run over to third left Stanford down 6-5 with two outs and Winaker still hovering off of second.
But instead of going down with a whimper, as the offense had so many times this season, the Wulff decided to howl at the moon – freshman Brandon Wulff came through by knocking a low fastball into center field to bring Winaker home and tie the game. After that, it wasn’t even a surprise when Jonny Locher took Cal closer Erik Martinez for a ride with a go-ahead, two-run moonshot to left to give Stanford the decisive 8-6 lead – the Bears’ ship had already long since sailed.
Such was the drama that seized the latest edition of the Battle of the Bay to cap off a thrilling and weird game in which the best defense in the nation committed three errors and the two best pitching staffs in the conference combined to allow 14 runs. But in the end, all that matters are the final numbers on the scoreboard, and Stanford (15-8, 4-2 Pac-12) picked up a rousing 8-6 win over No. 11 Cal (18-7, 7-2) in a game that didn’t count for the Pac-12 standings but still felt great nonetheless.
"Every game's important no matter who it's against, but obviously they're our rival and we're always going to have tight games with them,” said pitcher Brett Hanewich before the game. “They've definitely gotten a lot better and they've recruited well to get back to where they obviously lead the Pac, but it's definitely a game we want because we have this rivalry, Cal-Stanford.”
The Cardinal certainly played like they wanted it. Bad.
Stanford’s hitters, who exploded for 13 hits in the series finale against USC on Sunday, didn’t miss a beat. Against the second-best pitching staff in the conference, the Cardinal had runners on base in every inning and tallied at least one hit in every inning but the first. Every Stanford starter except Duke Kinamon collected a base hit, led by Quinn Brodey’s third 3-hit game of the season and the third straight multi-hit game from both Tommy Edman (2-for-4) and Mikey Diekroeger (2-for-5).
And though John Hochstatter again allowed a few runs as he continues to work his way back to full strength, the bullpen was rock-solid as usual, with Andrew Summerville, Kris Bubic and Colton Hock combining to allow just 1 earned run on 5 hits in six innings of relief. Bubic in particular looked good, with his breaking ball showing some sharp bite as he navigated four strikeouts in 2.2 innings of work, allowing just one earned run in the process.
The one concerning development was the three errors by the Cardinal, who led the nation with both their 10 errors and .988 fielding percentage headed into the game. Although one of the errors (charged to Tommy Edman) really should have been a hit instead, the game was an all-around sloppy effort from the Stanford defense – though the struggles were likely an anomaly against the hard-hitting Bears.
Although Stanford fell behind 2-0 after a Mikey Diekroeger error in the first led to two Cal runs scoring, the Cardinal clawed their way to a 4-3 lead by the fourth thanks to a sacrifice fly by Alex Dunlap, an RBI single by Brodey and an incredibly unorthodox 2-run infield single in the fourth by Nico Hoerner, who hustled down the line on a lazy grounder to second that Robbie Tenerowicz should have charged harder at second base, resulting in his throw being just late and allowing Edman to score all the way from second.
The Bears added two more in the sixth to regain a 5-4 lead before Stanford again battled back in the seventh on a deep double to center field by Brodey to bring Winaker home with the equalizer. Cal took the lead again on an infield single in the eighth on which Mikey Diekroeger made a stellar play at third before Winaker dropped the ball at first to allow a run to score, setting up Stanford’s heroics in the ninth.
Although a baserunning mistake by freshman Alec Wilson in the ninth (pinch-running for Wulff after his game-tying single) almost didn’t give Locher the chance to hit the go-ahead homer, Cal catcher Brett Cumberland couldn’t make the throw to third to gun down Wilson trying to take third on a ball in the dirt (with two outs!) and preserved Stanford’s rally.
The third-place Cardinal will next head down to UCLA to take on the seventh-place Bruins in a Thursday-Saturday series at Jackie Robinson Stadium.