Cal Poly baseball pitcher Reed Reilly went on the shelf after tweaking his hamstring and hadn’t pitched for 10 days before closing out Sunday’s 8-4 win over Cal.
While Reilly waited for the hamstring to heal, he put added strain on his calf to compensate, and now that muscle is feeling a little tight.
Mustangs head coach Larry Lee gave Reilly some playful ribbing about the wandering injury before the game. Then karma came back to bite hard.
Lee had to watch the No. 7 Mustangs (19-4) seal a 2-1 series lead going into today’s 3 p.m. finale with the Golden Bears (11-11) from the Baggett Stadium dugout as he nursed his own calf muscle injury suffered while coaching third base in the second inning.
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On a single by Mark Mathias, the Cal Poly coach was backpedaling toward the plate and waving baserunner Jimmy Allen home from second for the Mustangs’ first run of the game, also the tying score, when he felt a pull.
“He was just too intensely waving Jimmy around home on that hit,” junior right fielder Nick Torres said.
Unable to walk, Lee was replaced at third by assistant coach Teddy Warrecker and did the remainder of his coaching glued to the bench with a wrap around his left lower leg.
Seemingly inspired, Cal Poly put together three more runs in the second-inning rally.
Torres, center fielder Jordan Ellis and leadoff man Tim Wise combined for six hits in the game, two runs and five RBI at the top three spots in the order, and when Cal eventually cut the lead back to one, the Mustangs got three more runs to pull away once more.
Ellis, Torres and Allen each doubled, and with the Bears gaining momentum after cutting the lead to 4-3, Ellis had a bloop single to score a run with two men on in the sixth, and Torres hit a ball to the wall that Bears left fielder Aaron Knapp got a glove on but could not hold on to, driving in two more.
Could they have been motivated to do it for their fallen coach?
“No,” Lee said, laughing. “No. They don’t care about me.”
Though some fun was had at Lee’s expense, the injury will likely also keep him off the field for today’s finale.
After the game, the coach bemoaned the severing of his close connection to the game, one only forged through giving signals from third base.
Relinquishing that responsibility was the sign of something serious.
“If Larry can’t coach third base,” Warrecker said, “then he’s really injured. He does not want to come off the field. So, that was another thing that led me to believe he really injured his calf. And he couldn’t really walk.”
Torres was kidding, but if Lee’s injury was the result of some overzealous waving, it’s just another sign of how intense every game has become for the Mustangs as they continue to climb the national rankings.
Peaking at No. 6 in one poll, Cal Poly is now considered a major national power this year.
If the season ended today, the Mustangs would host an NCAA regional and be a favorite to make the program’s first run to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Those expectations have reversed Cal Poly’s role as the perennial underdog. Every team left on the Mustangs’ schedule is looking to score a major upset.
“We love it,” Torres said. “That’s exactly what we wanted. Coach Lee actually says that word for word: ‘We want that target on our back.’ We absolutely do.
“If we’re doing what we’re supposed to, then every team is going to want to come in here and treat this like a regional game. And that’s exactly what we want. We don’t want to be second string to the Fullertons and the UCLAs on the West Coast. We want to be the team on the West Coast.
“That’s what we’ve been aiming for. Really since I’ve been here, that’s been our goal. It’s not something that we just kind of started rolling with. It’s just coming together this year. We have all the right guys, all the right pieces.”
Except one, that is. Cal Poly hasn’t had Reilly at his best yet.
The junior reliever, who turned down a professional contract to return to San Luis Obispo after being drafted in the 18th round by the Baltimore Orioles, was hampered by a back injury in the fall.
He saw his velocity dip a few miles per hour and his highly respectable numbers (2.30 ERA, five saves and 16 strikeouts in 15 2⁄3 innings) haven’t been quite as dominant as he hoped, but resting through the hamstring injury might have helped him get on track to an even higher draft selection this year.
At around 93 mph, Reilly’s fastball was his hardest of the season Sunday, when he pitched 1 2⁄3 scoreless innings for the save, allowing only one hit, walking none and striking out three against Cal.
Reilly came on in relief of Casey Bloomquist, who improved his record to 5-0 and lasted 7 1⁄3 innings.
Bloomquist allowed four runs on nine hits, including two home runs, while striking out four. His ERA ballooned to a still-paltry 1.82. It was 0.99 coming into the game.
The mistakes Bloomquist left up in the zone were hammered, and he allowed those nine baserunners, but he did not walk a batter and got out of jams with runners in scoring position in both the fifth and sixth innings while protecting a one-run lead.
The overall success of Bloomquist and the rest of the pitching staff is one reason Cal Poly hasn’t needed Reilly to be his absolute best just yet.
“Our bullpen has really stepped up,” Reilly said. “Taylor Chris, he’s kind of filled the closer role the past week and did a great job. Our starters the whole year have been going deep in games. Our staff has been holding us together, and the hitting’s keeping up. We’re a much more balanced team this year.”