The Monte Vista High baseball team has a saying when one of its Mustangs pitchers is nearing a complete game.
Smell the barn.
It doesn’t exactly agree with the fact that mustang was a term popularized in describing free-roaming feral horses in the old west.
In the case of Joey Wagman and the Cal Poly baseball team (28-19), it would also contradict one of Don Oberhelman’s favorite tenets from the athletic director’s newly constructed manifesto, The Mustang Way: A Mustang is never conquered.
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“I’ll keep that in mind,” Wagman said, tongue-in-cheek.
Nevertheless, Wagman, a former Monte Vista standout, has been close enough to smell the ninth inning five times for the Cal Poly Mustangs this season.
Just like Friday night’s 6-1 victory over visiting CSU Bakersfield at Baggett Stadium, Wagman’s free roam ended every time before he could record his first career complete game.
“If you’re pitching well, you want to throw all nine and you want to keep your team in the ballgame,” said Wagman, who tied a career high with 10 strikeouts through eight innings. “It’s kind of selfish to say, but you want to give your team the best chance to win.”
In theory, a complete game would be a memorable accomplishment for Wagman, who walked none and allowed only one unearned run on four hits.
In reality, after 103 pitches from a body that’s nursing the usual end-of-season aches and strains, Wagman had full confidence in the prudent decision to allow reliever Michael Holback to finish the victory with a scoreless ninth.
Wagman is scheduled to make two more starts before the end of the regular season, one where he’s put together a 7-1 record and 2.56 ERA pitching against the opponent’s best starter every weekend.
If his curveball continues to be as effective as it was Friday, Wagman could get another chance to finish a game.
“It’s a big thing for a pitcher to finish what he started,” Cal Poly shortstop Mike Miller said. “It’s kind of like having a perfect day at the plate, going 4 for 4 or 5 for 5. You’re finishing off your day. He’s one of the best competitors on our team, so hopefully, he gets a chance to finish one out because he’s been great, and I think he can do it.”
Miller had a game-high three hits in five at-bats, including a double, in the first of a three-game nonconference series against the Roadrunners (19-24).
Mitch Haniger was 1 for 2 with an RBI double and a sac fly to drive in another and moved into sixth place and eighth place on the Mustangs’ career lists for doubles (45) and RBI (126). Former Cal Poly outfielder Adam Melker (2007-10) also had 45 doubles in his career.
Tim Wise was 2 for 4 with a solo home run, and Nick Torres added another solo shot for Cal Poly. All six of the Mustangs runs came against Bakersfield starter Spenser Messmore, who entered the game with a team-leading 1.83 ERA.
But it was feast or famine for the Cal Poly hitters. Messmore allowed eight hits and three walks in only five innings, but he also struck out seven. The Mustangs managed one-run rallies in the first, second, third and fifth innings but could have come away with much more. “Even though it was a 6-1 win,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said, “it’s like we don’t know how important it is to really be intent on doing the best possible job that we can and being focused and intent. We’re too laid back. There’s no energy in the field, in the dugout, in the stands. It’s just not the environment that we want. Hopefully, it will change tomorrow.”
Said Miller: Messmore “was running the fastball a little bit, so it had some good movement. Throughout our order today, a lot of guys pulled some balls foul. I think his plan was to bust you in and get some movement in under the hands, and he did that.”
But the night belonged to Wagman. His only real blemish came after second baseman Denver Chavez missed a two-out line drive by DC Legg that would have ended the top of the second inning.
Instead, J.P. Maestas roped a double to plate Legg and tie the score at 1-1. Torres homered to lead off the bottom of the second, and Wagman cruised from there.
“It’s toward the end of the season, everybody’s probably not feeling 100 percent, and I’m in that same boat,” Wagman said. “But it’s good to come out on a night like tonight and get a good win. It just makes it feel a lot better.”