BERKELEY -- Former California baseball righty Stephen Pistoresi looked on with mouth agape, standing beside several teammates from the 2011 College World Series team. He watched this year’s edition of the Golden Bears mob Mike Reuvekamp -- who for the second day in a row was at the center of a walk-off celebration as Cal downed Michigan 6-5 in 10 innings -- and breathed, “So, this is what it looks like from this side.”
Pistoresi -- who graduated last year -- stood alongside St. Louis Cardinals 31st-round draft pick Joey Donofrio, 27th-round Colorado Rockies draft pick Matt Flemer and former Bears outfielder -- and inventor of the rally cape -- Dwight Tanaka in the stands, as they watched the mass of gold jerseys swarm its way around the edge of the infield, and they weren’t the only ones who felt a sense of déjà vu.
“I remember the year we went to the College World Series, the first day, we had a walk-off, ” said designated hitter Devon Rodriguez -- a noted expert on walk-offs. “We’ve got a great bunch of guys. Everybody out there is team-first. It’s awesome.”
Rodriguez went 4-for-5 on the day, and has now gone 6-for-9 over the first two games of the season with four RBIs. He was part of a 13-hit attack that saw four Bears notch multi-hit days, as the top four hitters in the lineup went a combined 8-for-17.
“At the end of the day, I just want to get wins,” said Rodriguez, who sat out most of last season after a PCL injury resulted in a blood clot in his leg. “We’re 2-0 right now, so I couldn’t be happier about my comeback right now. That’s all I care about.”
Cal (2-0) once again had to overcome poor starting pitching, as junior lefty Kyle Porter mirrored senior Justin Jones’s performance from the day before, lasting just 3.1 innings and forcing the bullpen to do yeoman’s work. Over the past two games, six Bears relievers have gone 14.1 innings, allowing just on run on six hits and six walks with 10 strikeouts.
“Our bullpen has just been fantastic for two days,” said head coach David Esquer. “We’ve given up one run out of the pen, and our starters have only given us 3.1 and again today ... It’s concerning. Starting pitching, that is concerning, because, to be quite honest, they’ve pitched that way all of January, so this is not unusual, and that’s concerning. What I’ve seen the last two days, I’ve seen since Day One in January, and it’s been concerning, because they haven’t stopped us or controlled us, and you want it to be different because of who they are and what they’ve done, but it hasn’t looked that way. It’s more of the same. I don’t know what the answer is. Obviously, our bullpen is a strength, but we can’t rely on being down. We’re not going to be able to keep coming back against the better people. We have to get on top of someone and hold them and use our bullpen to keep somebody down, rather than to hold them so we can come back.”
After a leadoff walk to true freshman John Soteropulos in the bottom of the 10th and a sacrifice bunt by another true freshman Devin Pearson, Reuvekamp stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 10th against two-way player Jacob Cronenworth.
“I was leading off, trying to get on any way I could,” Soteropulos said. “It was just a rush. These guys on the team, they’re a great bunch of guys, and they make me feel really comfortable. They’re really behind you, no matter what you do on the field.”
After a meeting of the minds with first base coach Ruben Noriega, third base coach Tony Arnerich and Esquer, Reuvekamp got in an 0-2 hole, but worked the count to 2-2 and then squared up a slider, sending it flying over the head of drawn-in left fielder Zach Zott to send Soteropulos careening around third and sliding into home.
“He got me the first AB I had against him with the slider, so I was trying to be aggressive early – a little over-aggressive – and he threw me some fastballs,” Reuvekamp said. “He’s got a pretty good fastball, and later in the at-bat, I was expecting the slider, because that’s what he got me with last time, and I knew the outfield was playing farther in to cut down the runner at second, so I was just trying to get it somewhere in the gap and try to score him.”
On Friday, Reuvekamp was the one scoring the winning run on a single off the bat of catcher Andrew Knapp, who went 2-for-5 with three RBIs, two coming on a home run to cut the lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the fifth.
“I wasn’t trying to do anything special,” Knapp said. “The shorter fence, it just happened to get out. I got some good contact on it and hit it to the opposite field. That’s been my approach up ‘til now -- trying to drive the ball to the opposite field and not really worrying about pulling the ball, because once I do that, then I get myself out.”
Knapp is now 5-for-10 on the season with four RBIs, and chuckled after the game, “I just want to have to only catch nine innings tomorrow (Sunday).”
After the Bears shot out ahead of the Wolverines (0-2) in the bottom of the first on an RBI double by Rodriguez, Michigan fought back to tie things up in the top of the third against Porter, who hit leadoff man Patrick Biondi in the back with a curve and then allowed a double to right fielder Michael O’Neill. Third baseman Travis Maezes then deposited an 0-1 breaking ball through the right side for an RBI single to tie the game up.
The Wolverines got four runs in the top of the fourth on a leadoff home run from Cronenworth over the temporary, closer fence in right field, there in place of the regular fence, which is down as the team adds lights for the Pac-12 opener against USC on March 28.
An error and a single put two men on with one out for O’Neill, who lined the first pitch he saw from reliever Keaton Siomkin into right for an RBI double. Maezes then sent a dribbler to the mound, but Siomkin froze, caught between wanting to throw home or to first. He finally spun and threw to try and get the sure out, but Maezes beat the throw as Biondi came home to score. A wild pitch to designated hitter Kevin White brought O’Neill in to make it 5-1.
After Knapp’s opposite-field circuit shit in the bottom of the fifth, the Bears got a run in the seventh when Rodriguez roped a two-out, 1-1 pitch into the right center field gap to score true freshman Brian Celsi.
Celsi played a key role in the bottom of the ninth, leading off with a slicing single to left before being sacrificed to second by Derek Campbell. Celsi saw his opportunity on a low-and-away fastball to Knapp and swiped third, just beating a low throw to set up Friday’s hero, Knapp.
“Stealing that base, who would have thought it?” Rodriguez said. “It’s just awesome. Everybody’s committed to the same goal, and I couldn’t be prouder of our team right now.”
The junior backstop shortened up and sent a single through the left side to tie things up at 5-5.
“He threw me a slider that was pretty good the pitch before that,” Knapp said. “I took a really funky swing on it, and I was kind of protecting against that pitch, and I just was a little late on the fastball and happened to shoot it through the gap.”
Junior right-handed sidearmer Trevor Hildenberger tossed 2.2 shutout innings, allowing just one walk and facing the minimum down the stretch. To earn his first win.
“He made them look like we were hoping he’d make the opposition look, which is put the ball on the ground,” Esquer said. “That was big.”
Having clinched a series win, Cal goes for the sweep on Sunday at 10:30 a.m., owing to the Wolverines’ 4 p.m. flight back to Michigan. After that, the Bears face off against Stanford on Tuesday in a non-conference tilt at Sunken Diamond.