Time is beginning to run out on the Stanford baseball team. Just when the Cardinal seemed to have found the right balance between offense, defense and pitching, it stumbled.
Stanford dropped a 9-5 decision to visiting California on Monday night, losing the three-game series to the Bears and falling under .500 on the season with 16 games remaining on the schedule, including 12 in Pac-12 Conference play.
"They pitched better than us, they hit better than us, they played defense better than us," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "We got outplayed. We gave them too much."
The Cardinal (7-11, 18-19) travels to Pacific for a nonconference game Tuesday at 6 p.m. and there has to be a sense of urgency. Playing .500 ball the rest of the way just won't cut it.
Stanford entered the series winning six of its seven previous games to climb to .500 and with a chance to improve its credentials for the NCAA tournament. Losing two of three to the Bears sort of knocks the Cardinal for a loop.
Stanford's final seven opponents have a combined .430 winning percentage, with UCLA and Pacific the only two teams with winning records.
The Cardinal has a chance, though it will likely take winning about 70 percent of its remaining games to get into position.
Stanford, which led the Pac-12 in fielding percentage (.991) in conference games, committed three on Monday night. The Cardinal made six errors in its previous 17 conference games.
The Bears scored an unearned run in the first and third and carried a 4-3 lead into the fifth inning.
Alex Dunlap's two-run single against Cal starter Ryan Mason (4-0) in the second was the hardest hit ball against him. Dunlap gave the Cardinal a short-lived 2-1 lead.
Stanford pitchers walked six hitters through the first six innings, further frustrating the situation.
"We got a couple of good pitching performances this weekend and had the one-run lead in the first game," Marquess said. "We lost that one, and then we come back and get a well-pitched game and win."
With a fresh bullpen, there wasn't much patience by the Cardinal coaching staff. Starter Brett Hanewich (1-4) lasted 2 2/3 innings after giving up four runs, two earned, on four hits.
Griffin Weir and Sam Lindquist each pitched a scoreless inning, to set up an interesting ninth inning.
Mason walked Danny Diekroeger, who leads Stanford with a .304 batting average) and Alex Blandino (.301) to open the final inning. Mason was pulled in favor of Dylan Nelson, who promptly gave up a two-run triple to Austin Slater, who had two hits and drove in three runs.
Nelson walked Brant Whiting, ending his night. Trevor Hildenberger, who won Saturday's game, took over and struck out the next two hitters before getting Wayne Taylor to ground out to end it.