BERKELEY -- As a certain science fiction doctor is so fond of saying, "A little suffering is good for the soul." As a certain fictional minor league catcher once said, "Don't think.; you can only hurt the ballclub."
For California sophomore shortstop Derek Campbell -- he of the bleached Mohawk, green shoelaces and techno walk-up music, both are eminently true. After starting the season 2-for-20 with four errors in the field, Campbell finally broke through on Saturday, going 3-for-4 with a home run, two runs, two RBI, five assists and no errors as the Bears cruised past visiting Lehigh, 9-3 at Evans Diamond.
"I've been too antsy lately," Campbell said. "I just kind of let the game come to me, and I play a lot better like that, obviously. I always say, when I start thinking, I start pressing myself. I play terrible. So, I let the game come to me, and I'm just glad we won. Any way I can help out."
Lefty starter Justin Jones who needed just 77 pitches to get through seven shutout innings, as he allowed four hits, no walks and struck out three.
"I got tempo and rhythm, and that's something I didn't have last week," Jones said. "That was the main thing: tempo and rhythm. I'm not trying to overthrow. I'm just trying to throw strikes. I saw they were aggressive, so if I just threw down the middle, I had my sinker today, so I was throwing it and getting them to roll over."
With the win, Jones moved to 21-13 on his career, and slid into a sixth-place tie with Joe Gaggero (1952-55) and Ted Settle (1958-60) on the Cal career victories list, thanks to a particularly sharp sinking fastball and his trademark curve.
After taking over as the starting keystone man after Marcus Semien was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the sixth round last year, Campbell has struggled both at the plate and in the field as he tried to fill the void left by the three-year starter, but against the middling Mountain Hawks (2-3) -- making their first trip out to California in program history -- he came up big with the metal and the leather.
"I think he's just kind of been pressing with his overall game," Bears head coach David Esquer said of Campbell. "When you're not contributing with one, then you maybe try a little extra hard with the other and then it just kind of snowballs and you don't do either well."
After Cal (6-2) went up 1-0 in the first thanks to a sacrifice fly by senior catcher Chadd Krist cashing in a leadoff double by Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda, Campbell sent a hanging 1-1 curveball from Lehigh starter Nick Cassell screaming over the left field fence for a solo home run -- his first career circuit shot.
"It was right there," Campbell smiled. "If I had missed it, I couldn't live with myself."
In the bottom of the third, the Bears struck again, starting with the second straight leadoff double from Renda. After a line-out from designated hitter Vince Bruno, Krist stepped to the dish and sent a groundball to the right side, spinning away from first baseman Joe Conaway. Conaway backhanded the cue shot and threw wildly to first and all the way to the Cal dugout, allowing Renda to score and Krist to take second.
Cassell then hit first baseman Andrew Knapp on the back leg with a breaking ball, and a groundout to short by center fielder Chad Bunting put runners on second and third . True freshman Chris Paul -- pinch hitting for starting third baseman Mitch Delfino after the powerful junior was sidelined with a nasty bruise on his back courtesy of an errant first-inning pitch from Cassell -- worked a four-pitch walk, loading the bases for senior right fielder Danny Oh.
Oh sent a 1-1 delivery from Cassell back through the box for a two-run single, putting the Bears up 5-0, and Campbell took yet another hanging curve from Cassell into left center field for his second RBI of the afternoon.
"Coming through with that one base-hit for two RBI was big," Esquer said of Oh, who came into the game hitting .174. "We've got to continue to do that. We've been getting runners on, we just haven't gotten that big hit, and he got one of those today."
Cal added another run in the bottom of the fourth on a slicing line-drive double to left center by Knapp, and the route was on.
After struggling a bit in the first, Jones retired nine straight hitters until Lehigh shortstop Ryan Gajdos sent a hard shot over the mound and into center for a fifth-inning single, but he was erased on a silky-smooth double play turn on a grounder to short by catcher Chad Warga. Along with Campbell's resurgence in the field, Renda, too, seemed to get past his early-season struggles with the glove, recording five assists.
"That's something that's a must for us," Esquer said. "We really have no excuses for not having played good defense. We've got good personnel, but we just haven't played good defense, not to our capability. We really kind of bear down on that, because we have to. We're not going to strike out enough people with our pitching staff to not play good defense. It's good to see those guys play better. That's a must."
The Bears turned two double plays on the afternoon, the most they've turned in a game this season.
"It's very, very, very good to see," Jones said. "I always have confidence in them. Every time I go out, I don't expect any errors, and today, we played errorless ball. Campbell really stepped up today, offensively and defensively. He made a lot of tough plays, made some backhands and that diving play up the middle. It's great to have him back, I guess you could say."
Campbell flashed his athleticism in the top of the sixth inning, when, with one down, third baseman Brendan McGaheran sent a sharp grounder over the glove of Jones. Campbell came out of nowhere to glove the shot behind the bag at second, popped to his feet and fired to first for the out.
"There was a similar play up the middle and I didn't take a good route to it, and I talked to Flip (assistant coach Brad Sanfilippo) and he said that I had to take a better angle back to it," Campbell said. "So, I saw the exact same hit, and I did exactly what he told me. I got to it, got up, and Knappy made a terrific play to help me out on that one. It was a bang-bang play, so I'm glad he picked it. That got me pumped up.
"Every game, whether I get three hits or no hits, I feel like I need to be the leader of the defense. I need to show them, by my play, that we're going to be No. 1 in the Pac-12 defensively, and when a pitcher sees that we're that solid defensively, you feed off that. We're going to hit. We've got good hitters, but when we're good out there, I feel we're good in here."
In the bottom of the seventh, Esquer began to rotate in some of his second-line players, subbing sophomore utility man Mike Reuvekamp for left fielder Darrell Matthews after a leadoff single by Campbell.
Reuvekamp responded with his first career hit in a Bears uniform with a soft single to shallow center. Renda was then robbed of a hit on a sliding grab by right fielder Brandon Wilt, and a hard liner to left off the bat of big Jacob Wark was speared by left fielder Casey Turner. Krist sent the third pitch he saw from reliever Mike Burke to the warning track in left center, one-hopping the wall for a two-run double, his fourth of the season. Krist finished the day 3-for-4 with a run and three RBI, after coming into the day hitting .267.
"I have to start hitting well to do anything else," smirked Krist, regarding the fact that four of his 11 hits on the season have been of the two-base variety. Last season, Krist came one double shy of Xavier Nady's single-season doubles record, with 27 to lead the conference.
"I thought he did fine," Esquer said. "We've been looking for the right opportunity to get him out there, and so it looked like he was throwing the ball pretty firm and he got a couple outs with his breaking ball, so definitely a positive. He'll get out there again, for sure. He earned that right."
The Mountain Hawks made things interesting in the top of the ninth against side-arming sophomore righty Ryan Sandler, who allowed four hits and a walk as Lehigh plated two runs on a double by designated hitter Alex Jacques and a sacrifice fly to Gajdos. Sandler got out of trouble thanks to the strong arm of true freshman shortstop Brendan Farney, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, and made a strong throw to first on a grounder by pinch hitter Tyler Bong to end the game.
"I wasn't concerned, but I'd rather it didn't happen," Esquer said of the tight ninth. "Each one of those guys, it's an audition. It's not 9-0 in our mind when they go in to pitch. It's, 'Can you help us and get hitters out if the score is 4-1 in the ninth.' That's kind of the spot we're really looking for. Say you're up by three runs or four runs, you don't necessarily need your closer, it's who can help you get through an inning so you can get closer to the end of the game."
--With the win, Esquer tallied his 360th victory as the Cal head coach. He has quite a ways to go to catch the third-place George Wolfman on the all-time rolls. Wolfman went 484-335 from 1955-73.
"I had no clue," Esquer smiled. "Hey, I'm fortunate to be here for 360, and that's all I know. There maybe not have been a 360 a year ago."
-- Four Bears tallied multi-hit days, including Renda (3-for-5, two runs), Krist (3-for-4), Knapp (2-for-2, one run, one RBI, two walks, one HBP) and Campbell. Paul tallied two walks in his first extended action.
"Offense is kind of a rhythm thing, and maybe you get the warmer weather here and get some confidence at the plate and get some hits and some real ballgames, it can go a long way for a group," said Esquer, who's team rattled off 13 hits. "It was big. Guys took some better swings today and we looked much better offensively, no doubt."
-- Jones had been slated for between 90 and 100 pitches, but his efficiency allowed Esquer to turn to the pen and get a look at Wertenberger and Sandler.
"We thought he'd get to 90 pitches, but they swung early and he got into the seventh, and we had to see a couple other guys," Esquer said. "We're still trying to figure out who can help us."
-- Farney saw his first collegiate action, and he as well as the other subs have so far impressed Esquer.
"We got to see Jacob a little bit more and it seems like he's been swinging the bat pretty well, and a couple of those guys are going to get more chances, like Farney," Esquer said. "He's been practicing very well, and Rev (Reuvekamp) is kind of the energy to our practices on a daily basis, so it's good to see him get out there and get a hit."
-- Delfino was removed after taking a pitch to the back in the first inning, and may not be able to go on Sunday, when the Bears face the Mountain Hawks in a doubleheader, scheduled to start at 11 AM at Evans Diamond.
"Chris Paul got in there and he may have to get in there tomorrow, because Mitch may be out for tomorrow," Esquer said. "It kind of bruised a little bit more than we thought on the hit-by-pitch, but he'll be OK."
-- Junior first baseman Devon Rodriguez was in uniform on Saturday, and was free of the knee brace he's been sporting after a sprain to his posterior cruciate ligament the week before the season. He had been slated to return for the first Pac-12 series against Oregon State on March 16, but he may get back sooner than that.
"We're hoping Nebraska," Esquer said, targeting the March 9-12 four-game set in Lincoln. "We're hoping he get in there at Nebraska, so he's getting better. He's swinging the bat a little bit, so that's positive."