Baseball loses a heartbreaker

Stanford scrapped together two runs in the bottom of the ninth before Cal's Charlie Cutler singled home the winning run with two out in the tenth. Stanford had a chance in the bottom of the extra frame, but there was no joy in Mudville: mighty Toby would strike out.

In a nutshell:
California 4, Stanford 3

California (31-15-2, 10-9): 100 010 010 1
Stanford (28-17-2, 10-6): 000 100 002 0

The heroes:

Allowing just four hits in seven innings, junior righty Austin Yount allowed no more than one run in an inning and pitched better than his three earned runs would indicate. On a cold night on which Stanford's batters needed nine innings to warm up, Yount, and his five strikeouts, kept the Cardinal in contention.
In the pitchers' duel, Brett Milleville knocked in a solo-shot homer in the fourth to put the Card on the board. Second baseman Colin Walsh and Randy Molina had two big hits in the ninth as Stanford mounted its comeback.

Tough day at the ballpark:

The top of the order didn't exactly shroud itself in glory, with the one through five hitters a fairly standard 5-for-18. But Stanford's batters in the six through nine slots – Sean Ratliff, Brendan Domaracki, Zach Jones, Jake Schlander and Toby Gerhart – again struggled. Today, they were a combined 1-of-15. There's your ballgame, and there's your biggest red flag as the postseason looms on the horizon.

Key stretch:

Trailing 3-1, Stanford was on life support entering the bottom of the ninth. But then Walsh's curling double touched down just inside the leftfield line and Joey August drew a walk to start off the inning. Fast-forward to a Milleville sac fly and Molina's single, and the game was knotted at three and the stage set for extra innings.

In the top of the tenth, Cal's Michael Brady was on second after a walk and a steal as Charlie Cutler stepped to the plate with two outs. Cutler leashed a smart one-hopper that took an abnormally high bounce, deflected off Walsh's left shoulder and squirted into the outfield to bring home Brady. A groundout got relief pitcher Drew Storen out of the inning, but the damage had been done.

Brendan Domaracki led off the bottom of the tenth with a single, and Wande Olabisi pinch ran for him as freshman third baseman Zach Jones worked the count full against Cal righty Matt Gorgen.

On the full count, Olabisi took off running and was about to steal second easily as Jones struck out swinging. But Jones leaned back into catcher Dylan Tonneson as he fired to second, and home plate umpire Dan Mascorro called interference. Normally, Jones would have been out and Olabisi allowed to stay on first on the call (the steal would have been negated), but since Jones had already struck out, the interference out was applied to Olabisi. Thus, with one swing and one lean, Stanford went from no outs and a man on first to two out and none on – a de facto double play.

Toby Gerhart, mired in a slump, struck out swinging to end the contest.

The atmosphere:

3,670 turned out on a cool Friday evening, easily the biggest and loudest crowd of the season. (In a lament that will surprise no one, Cal's 670 were nearly as loud as Stanford's 3,000.) Add in the natural rivalry, the Pac-10 implications and the closeness of the game, and perhaps it's no surprise fans witnessed plenty of fireworks before the postgame show.

The top of the seventh alone justified the price of admission. After Blake Smith struck out looking on a questionable pitch to end the inning, Cal assistant coach Jon Zuber got into the umpire's face. For a long time.

Finally, head coach David Esquer came out to rescue Zuber from a likely ejection, but another official cut Esquer off at the pass. Esquer simply borrowed from the Reggie Bush YouTube highlight video, juking right but darting left around the official to get to his assistant coach.

The fans could not believe the jitterbug, and neither could the officials, who tossed Esquer. Still, we hope Toby Gerhart noted the footwork.

The hitting:

The less said the better tonight. The bottom of the lineup struggled most, but Cal ace Tyson Ross frustrated every Stanford batter at one point or another. Until its rally in the ninth, when Ross had visibly tired, the Cardinal had multi-inning stretches without hitting it out of the infield.

Plate discipline was again a culprit, with two walks to eight Ks for the Card.

The series:

Cal and Stanford will face off at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and will continue to provide full coverage. Stay tuned for all the latest.

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