(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
With no outs and the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning, things finally seemed to be trending in the right direction for the Arizona State Sun Devils. However, a strikeout looking and double play ended the game, erasing any hopes of a comeback and clinching a 7-5 series opening win for the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal.
After taking one of three games against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene, ASU returned home with 14 games left to play and a tough weekend opponent in the Cardinal.
After throwing an eight-inning complete game last Friday against the Oregon Ducks, ASU head coach Tracy Smith sent Eder Erives to the mound once again on Friday night, with hopes of another strong performance.
Smith was not pleased with what he saw from Erives, however, as the senior went only an inning and a third and threw 41 pitches. In his 35-pitch first inning, Erives struggled to stay ahead of the Cardinal batters, going to a three-ball count on five of the seven batters he faced.
“It was a significant amount of three ball counts. Pitching behind the whole time, solid contact, even when he was ahead,” Smith explained as part of his reasoning for Erives’ short leash. “I just thought in this situation with their pitching, the way they’ve been, we can’t let them get a lot of runs… I just thought he was definitely living on the edge.”
Erives was relieved by Jake Godfrey, who would finish off the inning, but not before allowing the runner he inherited from Erives to score. The third inning saw the third different arm in the game, this time in the form of hard-throwing Ryan Hingst.
Hingst struggled early on, allowing an unearned run to score in the third and giving Stanford a 3-0 lead. After ASU’s offense came within one, he gave up a three-run home run to Cardinal leadoff hitter Matt Winaker, which extended his team’s advantage to 6-2.
Despite giving up five runs over the course of his six innings of work, the relief work of Hingst filled a crucial role for the Devils, as his longest outing of the season allowed the bullpen to rest, a luxury they have not had for much of the 2017 season.
“If there’s a silver lining on that, you’re looking at using three pitchers by the third inning and that’s not something you want to do on a Friday, against a good club like Stanford,” Smith said. “And the fact that he was to come in there and stabilize things with six innings, was a definite plus. The one bad inning in the fifth, that’s going to happen. But for the most part, I thought he did a pretty decent job.”
Coming into the game, ASU starters had accounted for 182 and 2/3 innings pitched, while the bullpen had combined for just six less innings and 176 and 2/3.
Hingst’s extended outing, while not ideal, kept the Sun Devil offense in the game all night long, making it much-needed from two different aspects.
ASU’s hitters collectively had a good night at the plate, as combined for 14 hits in the Friday night contest, tying for their third-best game in that category in 2017. They also had at least one hit in every inning, with five separate innings seeing two Sun Devils reach base with a hit.
Eight different players recorded a hit in the game, with Lyle Lin being the only starter that did not reach base in that way. Andrew Shaps had a three-hit night, while Gage Canning, Carter Aldrete, Taylor Lane and Tyler Williams each had a two-hit performance.
“I thought we played well from an offensive standpoint,” ASU’s head coach said on his team’s performance. “Even there early in the game when we didn’t score in the first two innings, I thought we struck some baseballs hard… To the credit of the guys, they didn’t quit. You’re in the ninth inning with go-ahead run at the plate and three cracks at it. Just didn’t happen tonight. But I can’t fault, from an offensive standpoint, their effort tonight. I though the effort and the focus was there against a very good pitching staff.”
The struggle for the Sun Devils at the plate, however, came in the way of the timely or big hit. While the lineup hit the ball hard all night long, no inning saw the team score more than one run. In five different innings, ASU plated one run, notably the fourth and eight, where the runs came as the result of home runs from Canning and Shaps respectively.
After Garvin Alston Jr, pitched the game’s only 1-2-3 inning in the top of the ninth, Hunter Bishop and Lane started the bottom half off with back-to-back singles against one of the country’s best closers in Colton Hock.
After failing to lay down a sacrifice bunt, Ryan Lillard struck out looking to bring Zach Cerbo to the plate. Representing the tying run with only one out, Cerbo grounded into a double play to end the game and earn Hock his 13th save of the season.
“No secret, we’ve got a lot of young guys that are playing. No secret, this season’s been a struggle,” Smith admitted. “What you look for, who’s competitive. Now you’re going to find out who you are. It’s disappointing, when you out-hit somebody, get 14 hits on a Friday night and still lose. That shouldn’t happen and I would hope moving forward that’s not going to happen. But tonight it did. I can’t fault the effort. I think everybody was certainly trying, We just didn’t execute when we needed to execute on the field and that’s going to happen sometimes in baseball.”
The lack of execution proved to be the difference in the game, as ASU left 12 runners on base over the course of the night, most notably six in the first three innings. Despite the effort and resiliency all game long, a win was not in the cards for the Sun Devils, shifting their season record to 19-23 and 6-13 in Pac-12 play.
Tomorrow, the Sun Devils look to bounce back and even the series, as they send Eli Lingos to the mound. Stanford will counter with Andrew Summerville with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 P.M.
Nick Badders is a baseball beat writer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @BadderUpSports.