Just when it looked like the Stanford baseball team was rolling again, the squad hit another rut.
The wheels didn’t quite fall off this weekend against No. 16 Oregon, which couldn’t complete the sweep Sunday afternoon after taking the first two contests of the three-game set. But after the No. 6 Cardinal was held to just six runs on the weekend at Sunken Diamond, the squad now finds itself in a three-way tie for seventh in the Pac-12 with conference play approaching its midway point.
The Cardinal (22-9, 5-7 Pac-12) struggled mightily against Duck starters Alex Keudell and Jake Reed, as Oregon has now gone nearly a month since it lost with either righty on the mound. It took another strong pitching effort from sophomore righthander A.J. Vanegas on Sunday for the Cardinal to salvage a game.
With Stanford’s bats falling eerily silent after such a strong start to the season, the squad was far from satisfied with its performance.
“We’ve just got to start playing a little more consistent baseball,” said junior reliever Sahil Bloom. “We can’t be on a roller coaster. We can’t score 19 against Cal [last Monday] and then come out and do this.”
Luck was clearly not on Stanford’s side in the Friday the 13th opener. After junior righthander Mark Appel struck out the first two batters of the game and nearly got sophomore rightfielder Aaron Jones on a called strike three — an early sign that indicated that the strike zone would fluctuate all night — Jones reached second on an error by junior third baseman Stephen Piscotty. Jones came around to score on the next at-bat, and the Cardinal was down 1-0 early.
In the bottom of the second, junior catcher Eric Smith launched a shot to right field, but with the wind blowing in and to left, it bounced off the wall for a double and the Cardinal could not bring him home. Freshman designated hitter Alex Blandino doubled off the left field fences in the fifth and was stranded as well, while Piscotty also flew out to deep right twice in the early going.
Stanford finally got on the board when the Ducks made an error of their own. Sophomore rightfielder Austin Wilson ended up at second on a fielding error in center and was knocked in by a Piscotty double that was just the fourth hit given up by Keudell.
Neither team was able to do much offensively, with both aces going nine innings and Appel throwing an immense 149 pitches and compiling 13 strikeouts.
“Appel’s a great pitcher, but he’s an even better guy,” Bloom said. “It’s fun getting to watch him do that week in and week out.”
A strange top of the 10th with Piscotty on the mound sealed the opener for the Ducks. First, Wilson dropped a leadoff fly ball and put sophomore designated hitter Kyle Garlick at second. After Garlick was bunted over and another hitter walked, Piscotty grabbed a poor Oregon safety squeeze but overthrew first, making it 2-1 and putting runners on second and third.
Piscotty then threw a wild pitch to the next batter, scoring a run, but Smith made matters worse with an overthrow to third base, letting the Ducks tacked on their third unearned run of the inning and their fourth of the evening.
Stanford almost rallied from the 4-1 deficit, loading the bases with one out and the top of the order at the plate. Wilson struck out, and Piscotty singled to make it 4-2, but sophomore first baseman Brian Ragira lined out to end both the opener and his 13-game hitting streak.
Piscotty fell to 2-1 in his experimental role as a reliever, while Keudell improved to 5-3 as the Oregon ace.
Both teams’ bats got off to a slow start on Saturday, with redshirt junior lefthander Brett Mooneyham striking out seven Oregon batters in the first three innings alone. But a hit batsman, two walks — one of them with the bases loaded — and a passed ball fueled a 2-0 charge by the Ducks in the top of the third.
That lead was extended in the next frame, when a two-out walk and a bunt for an infield single were followed by Ryon Healy’s second home run of the year, making it 5-0 Oregon. Mooneyham got out of the fourth but his mediocre outing ended there, as his eight punchouts were coupled with four walks.
Meanwhile, Stanford stayed stagnant at the plate, as the Cardinal had a baserunner in each of the first six frames but couldn’t manage to get two men on base in any of those innings, coming up with only two hits to that point.
“They have a really good mix,” Bloom said of Oregon’s top two starters, Keudell and Reed (4-2). “They throw their fastballs for strikes, but more so than that, they’re really good at just getting that secondary pitch over.”
The Cardinal couldn’t get a run off Reed in the series clincher for the Ducks, though Bloom threw an impressive 4.2 shutout innings after earning his first win of the season at Cal last Monday.
“I felt comfortable out there,” he said. “I had the defense behind me, which is always great. We have a special defensive team.”
Stanford finally complemented its defensive play with some hitting on Sunday, but that offense didn’t come in its usual form. Instead,
sophomore Brett Michael Doran came into the game after shortstop Lonnie Kauppila injured himself in the second, taking over mid-at-bat and recording his first hit of the season, a two-run single.
Doran would get on the basepaths twice more on walks and came around to score both times, accounting for all of the Cardinal’s runs in the 4-2 win.
Sophomore righty A.J. Vanegas made another Sunday start and got the win, going 5.2 innings and allowing just five hits. He did allow two runs — one on a groundout after a wild pitch and another on an error by Wilson in right — but Stanford’s slight lead would hold, with freshman closer David Schmidt getting his third save of the year with 3.1 innings of scoreless work.
The win was crucial for the Cardinal, especially with another top-25 team in Arizona State coming to town next weekend. As disappointing as Stanford’s early conference play has been — the squad is hitting just .232 against Pac-12 opponents — Bloom says there’s no room for anxiety going forward.
“I don’t think you can ever really get concerned because all it takes is just one game to turn it around,” he said. “Once we come out and get a little more consistent, come playoff time, we’ll be just fine.”
Stanford will first host San Jose State on Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m., hoping to improve its perfect 7-0 record in midweek matchups.