In any long playoff run a team needs to get contributions from unexpected sources. Two freshmen have both become post-season heroes in roles that neither likely anticipated holding when Cal flew to Houston a few weeks ago. Kyle Porter was again brilliant as a starter, and were it not for a throwing error would have likely escaped with just 1 run allowed. And second baseman Derek Campbell singled twice, drove in two runs and scored another in Cal's 7-3 elimination game win.
For four innings the game seemed like a replay of Cal's Sunday afternoon loss to Virginia as Wacha cruised. Cal managed just one hit and two walks in the first four innings, and Wacha was keeping the Bears off balance with his change up. Meanwhilehit a two out home run in the 4th and it seemed that, with Wacha cruising, A&M was in control.
But everything changed when 3rd baseman Smith committed a throwing error to start the 5th inning. The bottom of Cal's lineup pounced on the opportunity. Back-to-back singles by Darrell Mathews and Campbell along with an outfield error allowed two runs to score, and Campbell would come in on a sac fly when Cal dared to challenge the usually dynamite arm of Aggie right fielder Tyler Naquin. Naquin air-mailed the throw and Cal had a 3-1 lead.
But Cal didn't settle with just the three runs, and Texas A&M was punished for having no confidence in a shaky bullpen. The Aggies stuck with Wacha and Cal hit him hard in the 6th, without the benefit of defensive miscues. Cal collected four hits in the inning, and another out came on a hard hit ball to close to the left fielder. Cal was all over Wacha, but the Aggies had no one else to turn to. When A&M finally escaped the Bears had added three runs for a 6-1 lead.
It wasn't going to be quite that easy - a tiring Porter and iffy defense allowed the Aggies to score two runs in the bottom of the 6th, and they threatened to score more. But Porter's biggest pitch of the night was a nasty breaking pitch that curved away from A&M's Kenny Jackson. Jackson couldn't get a swing on the ball and the home plate ump (somewhat generously, by my eye) ruled the pitch a strike that ended the inning. Cal responded with a one run inning in the 7th to add an insurance run.
Matt Flemer came into the game in the bottom of the 7th and took care of business the rest of the way, pouring strikes into the zone batter after batter. A&M managed just three singles against Cal's closer, and one of them could have easily been ruled an error. It was perhaps surprising for Flemer to extend himself in his longest outing of the season with Cal up four, but Cal wasn't going to risk the season on anybody but their best bullpen arm. And with the win the entire team has a day off to rest up for the next challenge.
Coach Esquer was interviewed after the game and didn't say who would pitch against either South Carolina or Virginia at 4:00 pacific on Thursday. He implied that it would depend on matchups, but the candidates would be right handers Dixon Anderson and Kevin Miller, or lefty Justin Jones. Obviously Cal fans would be thrilled to see a healthy Jones on the mound, but his status is still uncertain.
We'll have more thoughts and preview material on Cal's next game, but for now let's enjoy a very enjoyable win and another two nights in Omaha! Go Bears!