The Baggett Stadium wall may not look threatening from 300 feet away in the stands, but to a charging outfielder, all that’s separating a thick slab of wood from flesh and bone is a green layer of paint.
That coupled with a daytime wind pushing anything up in the air in the direction of the parking lot made for an interesting day in the outfield during Cal Poly’s 18-13 loss to UC Irvine on Sunday.
The Mustangs (14-29, 6-12 Big West Conference) got a couple of hits when jarring collisions with the wall in left knocked balls away from Anteaters fielders. And UC Irvine (29-16, 10-5 Big West) got the benefit of two hits when Cal Poly leftfielder Luke Yoder smacked into it, too.
The second of Yoder’s run-ins had him flat on his back and being checked by the trainer. There really isn’t any give.
Never miss a local story.
“None,” said Yoder, who was 2 for 5 at the plate with a home run and two RBI and ended up OK after the hit. “The thing you hope for is you don’t end up where there’s a pole where the two parts of the fences meet because it’s more metal, and that’s going to hurt the most.”
There were a few shots that didn’t need the wind’s help at all. After both teams combined to go homerless in the first two games of the series, they erupted for five — all well struck.
Anteaters duo Jeff Cusick and Francis Larson each batted 4 for 6 with seven RBI. Larson homered twice, Cusick once, and D.J. Crumlich hit the other UC Irvine home run.
The Anteaters took control early, striking for nine runs on four hits, six walks and two hit batters by Mustangs starter Eugene Wright in the first four innings. Jeff Johnson, who had been Cal Poly’s best reliever as of late, came on to allow eight runs on 10 hits in the next two innings.
The Mustangs actually out-hit the Anteaters 23-16. Bobby Crocker, David Van Ostrand, Ross Brayton and Evan Busby each had three hits apiece, and Cal Poly centerfielder Adam Melker had the second four-hit game of his career.
Benefiting from an early look at Sunday starter Eric Pettis, who closed out Friday’s win for the Anteaters, the Mustangs tagged him for seven runs on 16 hits in 52⁄3 innings, despite striking out seven times.
But in stark contrast to the 3-1 loss the Mustangs took in Friday’s pitcher’s duel, where hard-luck loser Matt Leonard fell to 0-7, this time it was the pitching that didn’t stand up.
“That’s just baseball,” said Melker, who was 4 for 6 with two runs, an RBI and a stolen base. “Sometimes you out-hit the other team and they hit well, too. Sometimes hits don’t equate to wins. That’s just how it works out.”
A senior, Melker has had his share of collisions with the outfield wall.
Late in Sunday’s game, he was able to track back and do something that few others have been able to do lately: Take the hit and still convert the out.
“It’s not soft, that’s for sure,” Melker said. “Today too, sometimes you know when you’re going to go hit the wall, but today the ball was carrying. So you kind of get that late read on it, and Luke just went face first into it.
“It’s definitely tough playing with that wall as an outfielder and experiencing walls that are padded,” Melker said. “It’s definitely easier. You have more confidence going back. You still you know you can run into the wall and not get really hurt.”
Yoder argued that the first of his leaping grabs was caught and only came out of his glove after he pushed off the wall to throw, but the umpires overruled.
Cal Poly has benefited from the wall scenario at times, too.
In last Sunday’s extra-inning victory over Long Beach State — one that swung a three-game weekend series toward the Mustangs for the first time all season — Cal Poly’s comeback was facilitated by two balls dropped at the wall.
Even though it seems like the wall is winning most of the battles recently, there is still only one way to combat it.
“Keep going kamikaze,” Yoder said. “I mean, heck, Melker’s the best example. He’s hit that wall a lot, but he’s always going to go after it. You can’t become scared of the wall because that’s when you’re going to be more liable to make mistakes.”