Apparently, Major League Baseball’s desire for shorter games has affected the Pac-10. In a game that took only two hours and 15 minutes to play, USC’s Mark Prior pitched a complete game two-hitter as ninth-ranked USC (25-12, 7-3 Pac-10) defeated Cal, 1-0, yesterday at Evans Diamond.
The loss drops Cal (21-17, 6-7) below the .500 mark in the conference. The team is now 5-10 in one-run games this season.
The game was the complete opposite of most Pac-10 baseball games, a conference from which pro sluggers like Jeff Kent, Troy Glaus, and Mark McGwire have grown and prospered. Prior (10-1) struck out a career-high 14 batters, walking only one. The Bears did not get a runner to second base.
“I’d like to know when the last 1-0 game happened in the Pac-10,” said Cal head coach David Esquer after the game. “Prior pitched an excellent game, as did Trevor Hutchinson.”
Cal’s inability to generate offense spoiled a fine performance by Hutchinson (2-6). The Bears’ ace right-hander struggled in his last outing against Oregon State, but was in command on Thursday, allowing eight hits and one walk in eight innings and striking out three.
“We’re going to need him as we go down the stretch run of the season,” said Esquer. “We need him to be tough on Friday, because everyone else’s Friday starters are going to be good.”
The game’s lone run came in the third inning. Alberto Concepcion led off with a double and advanced to third on a groundout to second by Michael Moon. Concepcion then scored on an RBI groundout to short by Jon Brewster.
“They got themselves into a position where contact could score a run, and that’s where we got beat,” Esquer lamented afterward.
The Bears were able to keep the Trojan offense at bay for the rest of the contest, turning three double-plays and causing the Trojans to strand three runners on base.
For a team that has played reasonably well this season, the Bears face a number of crucial series in the next few weeks. Cal has played solid baseball against College World Series-caliber foes like Stanford, Arizona State, and now USC. For them to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1995, Esquer thinks they have to learn a bit from the battle-tested Trojans.
“(The NCAA playoffs) would be a tremendous experience for our team; even some of the upperclassmen haven’t experienced that,” said Esquer. “USC has been through big games; they know how to concentrate in big games, how to play when they’re nervous. You can’t tell people about those experiences; they have to be there for themselves.”
The Bears know that things get no easier against USC; up next is last season’s Pac-10 pitcher of the year Rik Currier.
“If you can just get past USC’s starting pitching, you might find a little weakness,” said Esquer, “but it’s hard to do.”
The first pitch for today’s game is 2:30 p.m.