It wasn’t the bitter cold, harsh winds or impending rain that got to Eugene Wright.
No, the Sandy, Ore., native — who was born in nearby Portland and, believe it or not, has played in some bad weather — pitched right on through the elements in the Cal Poly baseball team’s series finale with visiting UC Santa Barbara.
But Wright, a junior college transfer who’s been used exclusively out of the bullpen before Saturday, instead got blown over by fatigue in the seventh inning of his first start for the Mustangs, a 10-3 loss that swung the series in favor of the Gauchos.
“I’ve pitched in this weather since I was three,” Wright said. “We’re used to this. I wouldn’t say comfy, but the weather just didn’t affect me that much.”
Wright cruised through the first six innings, giving up just one run on four hits without issuing a walk as the wind blew up screens of dust from the infield and plastic debris from the stands into the air and tacked it all over Baggett Stadium.
Wright entered the seventh with what seemed like a safe 3-1 lead after an RBI single by David Van Ostrand and a sacrifice fly by D.J. Gentile broke a 1-1 tie in the previous half inning.
A leadoff walk in the seventh — Wright’s first of the game — however, was a bad omen. In succession, a double, an RBI groundout and a run-scoring single followed to tie the score at 3-3.
And after stepping off the rubber a couple of times facing Gunnar Terhune with runners on first and second, Wright served up a two-run double to the Gauchos centerfielder and was relieved by Jeff Johnson.
“He did a good job up until the seventh inning,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said, “but that’s just a lot to ask of him. With our lack of bullpen depth, you’re trying to get another out or two just to shorten the game at the end.”
In all three games in the series, the Gauchos were able to get to the Mustangs’ bullpen in the seventh. On Friday, Johnson blew a save but held on to get the victory, while on Saturday, Mark DeVincenzi gave up the lead and lost.
Coming back on a day’s rest after throwing 54 pitches Friday, Johnson could not replicate his success. He allowed one inherited runner to score and was charged with two runs of his own before being replaced by Frankie Reed to get the final out of the seventh.
In all, UC Santa Barbara scored seven runs on five hits in the seventh and got two more runs against Reed in the eighth.
Gauchos pitcher Jesse Meaux got the complete-game win after giving up eight hits, striking out three and walking none.
Even if the weather didn’t seem to bother either starting pitcher, it did play a role in the field.
With the wind blowing straight out to right, Cal Poly got its first run on an RBI double by Adam Melker in the second inning. The American flag adjacent to the scoreboard looked starched in place, and the left-handed Melker lifted a Meaux pitch high enough for the wind to plop it a foot below the top of the wall.
The wind seemed to change course during the game, and by the end was blowing in from right. There was little consistency when it came to tracking fly balls.
“Today was definitely a challenge,” Cal Poly right fielder Bobby Crocker said. “I think you could see from the stands. Everything was dying. It was just terrible. Foul balls to the right side were just flying to the softball field, just variable winds all over the place.”
The game was moved to an 11 a.m. start instead of 1 p.m. to help ensure completion before the start of the afternoon’s showers.
Light sprinkling began in the bottom of the ninth inning, when Mustangs reliever Tommy Erlin came on to strike out two of three batters.
The silver lining to the rain clouds was Wright’s success into the seventh.
“I definitely feel like it was something I had to prove,” he said. “I don’t feel like I had to prove I could pitch, I had to prove I could be a starter and keep my composure throughout the whole game and not a small amount of innings.”
The team has been searching for another weekend starter since projected ace Steven Fischback has been slow to recover from surgery to repair a torn labrum and Mason Radeke is out indefinitely with soreness in his pitching arm.
Radeke had been Cal Poly’s best pitcher. He started out 3-1 with a 2.96 ERA, but since he went out last month, the Mustangs have lost 12 of 15 and are feeling the trickle-down effect of missing a reliable arm.
Matt Leonard and DJ Mauldin will continue to start on Fridays and Saturdays, and Lee will take a wait-and-see approach for Sundays.
“We need one more guy to step up,” Wright said. “Having Mason go down was the biggest problem, the toughest thing for us to figure out. He’s obviously one of the best guys.”