Mashers they're not, but Beavers are winners
Oregon State leads Pac-10 with three series to play
CORVALLIS - It was business as usual as Oregon State took care of California 4-2 Sunday in a Mother's Day matchup at Goss Stadium.
The third-ranked Beavers (34-11 overall, 14-4 in Pac-10 play) won two of three against No. 21 Cal (28-16, 12-9). It's what Pat Casey's Beavers do. They have played six Pac-10 series now and have won them all.
They're not doing it with smoke and mirrors, because they have a terrific pitching staff and solid defense. But their hitting is underwhelming, especially with the extended absence of two of the team's best bats - catcher Andrew Susac and infielder Jake Rodriguez - with identical injuries. Each broke the hamate bone of his left hand.
Susac, who was hitting a team-high .364 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 26 games, played only the opening Pac-10 series at Arizona. Rodriguez, hitting .319 in 19 games entering the Cal series, hadn't played a conference game until this weekend. He had been missing since March 26.
In the three games against Cal, Oregon State was outhit 27-15 - and still won two.
'Our pitching was outstanding all weekend,' said Casey, in his 17th season as Oregon State's head coach. 'That was the one thing that was constant. But if we're going to get to where we want to be, we have to get better offensively.'
The Beavers want to be in Omaha from June 19-30 for the College World Series. Before that, they want to win their first Pac-10 championship since 2006. They're in the driver's seat, leading second-place Arizona State (13-5) by a game with three conference series yet to play.
Oregon State clinched the Cal series Sunday with a stellar pitching performance by Ben Wetzler, the southpaw out of Clackamas High. The 6-1, 195-pound Wetzler yielded a leadoff home run to Tony Renda, then stoned the good-hitting Bears through seven innings, giving up three more hits and no runs, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
'Wetzler, being a freshman pitching in this environment, with what's on the line, was big,' Casey said.
Wetzler turned the game over to the 'Killer Bees,' sophomores Matt Boyd and Tony Bryant, who have been dynamite all season out of the bullpen. They didn't have their best stuff but got the job done, as usual.
Other Beavers contributed heavily in other ways.
Max Gordon, a sophomore JC transfer with four hits in 37 at-bats this season, laid out to make as pretty a catch as you'll see, diving to rob the Bears' Mitch Delfino of an extra-base hit near the warning track in left field in the second inning.
'He might have changed the game by the catch he made,' Casey said.
Another JC transfer, Brian Stamps, was the player of the game, going 2 for 2 with three runs scored, two stolen bases, a walk and a hit-by-pitch in four plate appearances. The smooth 5-11, 170-pound junior also made a couple of difficult catches look easy in center field.
'His speed changed the game on both offense and defense,' Casey said.
Freshman Kavin Keyes, who should be a senior at Alta High in Sandy, Utah, came through with another timely hit, delivering a run-scoring single in the seventh. Keyes, who turned 19 on April 25, had two hits out of the cleanup spot.
'Pretty impressive for a kid that young to do what he's been doing,' Casey said.
Think back to Oregon State's Pac-10 opener, an 18-0 walloping at Arizona on April Fool's Day. It was no joke to Casey, who didn't know whether to lay into his players or hug them afterward.
'I told the guys, 'The hardest thing for me to do is stand up in front of you guys and act like I like you. Right now, I want to kick all of your butts,' " Casey recalled with the slightest of grins. 'If I could get back yesterday, I'd love to play that game over, but time is the only inventory we don't get back.'
The Beavers regrouped and took to heart one of their many slogans - W.I.N. (what's important now). They won the final two encounters with the Wildcats, then set out on their mission of winning nine straight conference series.
Three to go.
'Every game is important, every single one of them,' Casey said. 'They're all the same to me. We've been in this situation before. We realize what happens when you look ahead of you or behind you.
'One thing about yesterday - it's gone. One thing about tomorrow - you don't know if it's coming. One thing about today - it's the one thing you can control. What's happening right now is the only thing that's important.'
Casey and his coaching staff are working wonders with a lineup that doesn't approach that of his College World Series teams of 2005, '06 and '07. Only Susac is of the ilk of leaders of those teams such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Andy Jenkins, Cole Gillespie, Darwin Barney and Mitch Canham, and he has been out of action through most of the Pac-10 schedule.
Arizona State, Arizona, Stanford and Cal hit better than the Beavers, but they don't play better.
'I always tell our guys, 'There's only one team in the Pac-10 that's talented enough to win it, and it ain't us,' " Casey said. 'It's true. What makes it nice is, we don't have to deal with that.
'The best team doesn't always win; it's the team that plays the best. That's what we're looking at.'
Stamps nodded when I relayed Casey's message.
'That's something we go by now, something Coach Casey is always saying to us,' Stamps said. 'It's not the best team that wins, it's the team that plays the best that day.
'That's what we like to do every day. That's what we did today.'
The Beavers did all the little things that added up to victory Sunday. The team that was picked eighth in the coaches' preseason poll (which makes Casey a shoo-in for Pac-10 coach of the year, incidentally) is in position to control its destiny and host a regional with three weeks of the regular season to play.
'Our guys have played well for most of the year,' Casey said. 'I understand we're limited in some of the things we can do. We know our limitations. We know what we have to do to win. If we don't do those things, we don't win.'
Rodriguez, a fearless freshman destined for big things over his next two seasons for the Orangemen, returned this weekend. Susac, who may be the first catcher taken in next month's major league draft, could be back for Tuesday's non-league game against Portland at Goss.
'Andrew took (batting practice) today,' Casey said. 'He looked good. He has been catching. He said he felt a little bit weak in his hand, but the doctor says he can't hurt it by playing.
'You don't want to get on it too soon and get some inflamed tendons and tendinitis, but he's ready. He might get a couple of at-bats Tuesday.'
More reinforcements are on the way in the form of Adam Duke, a 6-1, 185-pound freshman right-hander from Spanish Fork, Utah, who has missed the entire season while recovering from a shoulder injury. He could see some duty Tuesday against Portland.
'We want to get Adam going,' Casey said. 'We're trying to get him into a game. It just hasn't worked out, but he's ready to go.'
Stamps, finding his rhythm at the plate while adjusting to batting solely right-handed after switchhitting the previous three years, could wind up being the leadoff hitter the Beavers have been lacking all season. Susac's return means Keyes, hitting .317 and ably filling the cleanup role, could swing into a more natural two spot in the Beaver lineup.
Keyes graduated from Alta High early and enrolled at OSU in January, relishing the challenge of playing big-time college ball with the hopes of winding up on the sport's biggest stage in Omaha. The kid is hitting .317 and providing clutch hits along the way.
'Thinking about that I could be in high school right now, but being here and playing in the Pac-10 and in front of all these fans - it's been real fun,' Keyes said. 'We're fighting it out, we're rolling, and it feels good.'
We'll see if the best is yet to come.