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Cal Baseball: No Playoffs, But Beating Stanford Counts For Something

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In the end, even a road sweep probably wouldn’t have been enough.

As expected, the NCAA baseball playoff field was announced on Memorial Day and Cal’s name wasn’t included. In fact, when the selection committee listed the last 5 teams that missed the cut, Cal’s name wasn’t on that list either. Neither was Pac-12 rival Washington. Rightly or wrongly, the committee never viewed Cal as a legitimate at-large candidate.

None of that should diminish what the Bears did over the weekend. Historically, Sunken Diamond is where Cal teams go to die. Simply taking a series from Stanford on the road is an accomplishment by itself. Doing it by winning an 18 inning game and then blowing Stanford away the next day only makes it more noteworthy.

The only regret from the weekend is that Cal couldn’t quite close out what would have been their first sweep in Palo A lot ever. Cal earned an early lead and stayed within striking distance all game, but the clutch hits didn’t come the way they did in the first two games of the series and Stanford salvaged a win.

But wow, those first two games. Two wins, both incredibly satisfying for anybody who follows the team, and both as completely different as possible.

On Friday night I left home right when Cal and Stanford starting playing at 5:30. My wife and I drove to Stockton, watched the Ports earn a win over the Visalia Rawhide, and stuck around a bit after the game visiting with family. Then we had to stop at Target on the way back. We got home at 11:00, and I was able to listen to the conclusion of the game, including Tony Renda’s game winning RBI and Justin Jones’ hair-raising escape act in the bottom of the 18th.

Any game that goes that deep into extra innings is a contender for ‘instant classic’ status. That it came against Cal’s rival that happened to be ranked in the top 15 of every major poll only cements the title. But consider some of the crazy things that happened:

  • Tony Renda and Stanford’s Stephen Piscotty are two of the best hitters in the conference and both occupied the 3rd spot in the lineup for their teams. Both combined to improbably go 0-15 from the plate until Tony got his game-winning single in the 18th.
  • Matt Flemer and Mark Appel engaged in a classic pitcher’s duel for seven innings that became a mere footnote because it turns out the game wasn’t even half over yet.
  • 14 of the 18 innings played ended with the score tied. Only once did one team lead by more than one run – Cal, in the 12th inning.
  • Oh, that 12th inning. Chadd Krist’s two out, two RBI double seemingly won the game for the Bears, but then Stanford nearly won the game themselves in the bottom of the inning . . . twice. After recording the 2nd out, four Stanford hitters reached base in a row and two runs scored. The final out was finally recorded . . . at home plate, as the would-be winning run tried to score from 2nd on an infield single.
  • Oh yeah, and in the middle of all that 12th inning madness, Stanford’s Brett Doran hit a foul ball over the fence that was incorrectly ruled a game ending home run before the call was reversed. To the best of our knowledge, the band wasn’t on the field celebrating with the Stanford baseball team.

Of course Saturday’s game would pale in comparison, at least in terms of drama. But it was equally as sweet to hand Stanford their worst loss of the season by a wide margin. Maybe the game might have finished differently if Stanford hadn’t burned two of their best relievers in Friday’s marathon, but Cal still needed to get past starter Brett Mooneyham. They did that quickly and efficiently, then continued the onslaught against a series of relievers.

If nothing else, Cal’s two wins prevented Stanford from earning a share of the Pac-12 title, thus allowing . . . hold on, lemme check . . . UCLA WON THE CONFERENCE?! Gah! I blame Oregon for completely blowing it against the Beavers?

And so another baseball season draws to a close. Next week we’ll take a look at why the Bears were unable to make the playoffs this year and look ahead to the 2013 season. In the meantime, we’ll be lighting candles and praying to Jobu that Tony Renda doesn’t want to get paid*

*Tony should probably go get paid. I mean, if he wants to.