BERKELEY -- 20 minutes after he drove a first-pitch slider from reliever Bobby Dalbec into shallow left-center field for California's first walk-off win of the waning 2014 season, Golden Bears senior catcher Mike Reuvekamp got his Gatorade bath.
While Reuvekamp's knock was but a footnote in what will end up as the Bears' second straight losing season, his moment of pure joy was, in a word, perfect. Coming into the at-bat, he was 0-for-6 on the night, and he had just caught 12 grueling innings. It was about time.
"I wasn't having the day that I wanted, obviously, but that's part of being an upperclassman: You've got to understand that it might not be going your way, but you've always got to be ready to help your team win," Reuvekamp said after polishing off the 7-6 extra-inning win over Arizona in the longest game Cal (22-28, 10-16 in Pac-12) had played all season. "It was a good culmination of all the lessons I've learned over the years."
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound backstop – Cal's former starting shortstop – took his dose from the author of perhaps the most famous walk-off hit in program history -- Devon Rodriguez -- and reveled in every drop.
"He's been special to our program," said hitting coach Tony Arnerich. "For him to do that, that's the right guy in the right spot, for us. I know he wants to be up in that situation, and it's really just the right guy for the right spot."
"It felt really good," said Reuvekamp, eye black smeared over his cheeks. "We had a lot of walk-offs last year, so to get our first one this year, that felt good. The game where we were losing 6-0, you're way more tired in that game, but when every pitch and every inning, everything's important, you're not really tired until the end of the game."
Reuvekamp got the shot to end the game thanks to a good take by senior pinch hitter Jacob Wark, who led off the inning by taking a 1-2 pitch to the foot and then giving way to Chris Paul as a pinch runner.
Right fielder Brian Celsi then came up with a 1-1 liner through the drawn-in left side to move Paul to third.
Celsi's hit came under a bit of duress, with Dalbec stepping off to look to first and then stalling for time by throwing a calling card over to first, meeting, continually freezing the left-handed slap hitter.
"I don't know if they were doing it on purpose of if there was a miscommunication, but after I bunted through that first one, I was like, ‘God, just pitch it already. Come on, no drama for me, let's go.' I kept getting iced, iced, and I got the slash call and luckily, it worked out. It was a cool play. I saw them crashing, and I got the ‘Hawk' call, and it ended up going right where I wanted it, too."
Speedy freshman Aaron Knapp then came up and sent a perfectly-placed bunt up the third base line, and the throw by a charging Calhoun to first was late, loading the bases for Reuvekamp.
"That slash was huge by Brian, because now you're really putting pressure on," said Arnerich. "Now, you're first and second and Knapp's up with some speed, and you really pressure them to make a play. Chris Paul did a great job getting a jump to third and set it up for Rev, and he didn't waste any time."
Knapp was key at the top of the lineup – a spot he has a lock on for the 2015 season – going 2-for-4 with a run and a walk.
"We talked about it before the game, and he and I talk a lot about being a leadoff guy," Arnerich said. "Normally, the leadoff hitter that has a better game, that team wins, or the leadoff hitter that has a better weekend, that team wins the weekend, so he's really priding himself on that, and I told him before the game, ‘Be the better leadoff guy tonight,' and he was. He gets the ball rolling for us, and his speed is dangerous. Speed doesn't slump."
Reuvekamp nearly didn't have the chance to plate the game-winner, after the Bears had to run through three pitchers in the top of the ninth to try and hold down the Wildcats.
After 5.0 hold-the-line innings from senior closer Trevor Hildenberger, Cal sent Dylan Nelson to the mound to start the frame, and after getting shortstop Kevin Newman to pop out to Rodriguez, he surrendered a seven-pitch walk to Kingery. After three pickoff throws to first with Trent Gilbert at the plate, Nelson was lifted for lefty Chris Muse-Fisher, who walked Gilbert before getting Tyler Krause to pop out to Derek Campbell at second.
Muse-Fisher then dealt a four-pitch walk to Willie Calhoun, and went 2-0 to Moore, before being lifted for side-arming righty Jordan Talbot.
Talbot got two called strikes on the outer half of the plate before coming in to the left-handed swinging catcher, who flew out to left to strand three.
"We had a little bit of a crazy last inning," said pitching coach Mike Neu. "Talbot went in there and did a great job to throw some strikes in a tough spot. That was big."
Fittingly enough, the win came on the backs of several of the Bears' outgoing seniors. Senior first baseman Rodriguez went 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI, as did senior left fielder Vince Bruno. Senior closer Hildenberger held the line for 5.0 innings, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out three.
"He was big," said Neu. "Obviously, we're in a position where we're a little light in the pen, and some guys are put in roles where they haven't pitched before, but Trevor, if we have a chance to win a game, we're going to ride with him, and we were going to take him out the inning before, but he said, ‘Hey, I feel great. I feel like I'm getting better as the game goes on.' He was well-rested, and we said, ‘Hey, let's go,' and he did. He got stronger. He felt he could probably go back out there, but he was at 72 pitches at that point. He had thrown a start, but we feel good, because he did start last year, so we'd seen him do it before."
Hildenberger's effort came in relief of senior lefty Kyle Porter, who allowed six runs – four earned – on seven hits and one walk in 6.0 innings of work, with three strikeouts.
Porter was strong through the first six innings, allowing three runs on five hits, but in the top of the seventh, Porter got a little loose. Catcher Riley Moore reached on a bunt to third, when third baseman Lucas Erceg threw wide of first for the first of his two errors of the inning. Porter then gave up a ringing single to left to Dalbec, and then Erceg bobbled an attempted sacrifice bunt by first baseman Joseph Maggi for his second error, loading the bases with no outs.
Hildenberger then came in and gave up a single up the middle under the gloves of both Hildenberger and second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz, bringing two runs in to score. Center fielder Scott Kingery then sent a one-out single to center to load the bases again, setting the stage for a sacrifice fly by Trent Gilbert, giving the Wildcats (20-31, 9-20) a 6-5 lead.
After Hildenberger retired six of the next seven hitters he faced, the Bears had a chance in the bottom of the ninth, down by a run. Rodriguez swung big at the first pitch he saw, trying to tie things up and getting out in front of an off speed pitch, before flying out to left on a 2-1 hack.
Designated hitter Brenden Farney worked a four-pitch walk from Dalbec and then gave way to speedy Devin Pearson. With two outs, Dalbec issued a five-pitch walk to redshirt junior Derek Campbell. Bruno then took two balls before sending a ground ball single through the drawn-in left side to tie the game up at 6-6, much like Celsi had done in the bottom of the sixth, when he gave Cal a 5-3 lead with a 1-0 line-shot single over the left side to score two runs.
Lost in the drama was some stellar defense by freshman Tenerowicz, who made a diving snare on a drive by Maggi in the top of the fifth and a diving stop on a hard grounder to the right side by Calhoun one inning later to stop the bleeding in the top of the sixth, after Porter balked in a run.
The Bears conclude the home schedule with Senior Day on Sunday, with a 3 p.m. scheduled start time, pitting sophomore righty Ryan Mason (5-1, 2.73 ERA) against Arizona righty Tyger Talley (1-3, 3.43).
"If we weren't playing [San Francisco] on Monday, you feel like you've still got [Alex] Martinez and you've still got [Alex] Schick, and that'll probably be our bullpen tomorrow, and [Michael] Theofanopoulos, because we are getting pretty thin there," Neu said. "We've got to try and win the game tomorrow, however we can. We need a big start from Mason, if we can get one. We'll get what we can get and just go from there."
Cal then heads out to face No. 17 Oregon in a three-game set at PK Park in Eugene to finish off the 2014 season.