There are three parts to a baseball game: pitching, hitting and defense. A team that does two out of the three well will usually succeed. This Friday and Sunday, Stanford could only pitch effectively; on Saturday, the Cardinal could not find any of the three aspects of its game.
All that spelled an unexpected sweep for unranked UNLV against the No. 9 Cardinal at Sunken Diamond this weekend.
Stanford (10-2) entered the series on a nine-game winning streak carried by pitching and defense. On Friday night, senior starting pitcher Mark Appel once again provided the pitching.
Appel struck out a career-high 15 Rebels in seven innings, allowing only one earned run on four hits. It was another great outing for Appel, who has pitched as well as ever over his last three starts.
“That’s a big league pitcher out there on that mound,” said junior catcher Brant Whiting about his ace. “It’s always a joy to watch him pitch and do his thing.”
But UNLV scored two unearned runs in the second inning on three Stanford errors and never looked back en route to a 3-2 victory.
Stanford did witness a hitting resurgence from the left side of its infield. Sophomore third baseman Alex Blandino and junior shortstop Lonnie Kauppila combined for five of the Cardinal’s seven Friday hits. Blandino led the charge with a towering solo home run to left field, his first of the season, and finished 3-for-4.
But Stanford just didn’t have it going the following day. It seemed like one of those afternoons where Murphy’s Law was in full effect for those in a Cardinal uniform.
Sophomore starting pitcher John Hochstatter (0-1) did not have his best command. He lasted two innings before Stanford turned to freshman Daniel Stalwart, who had previously proven himself as a very reliable option.
But Starwalt did not have his stuff going either. The righthander give up five runs (four earned) in two-plus innings on the mound, and just like that, Stanford found itself in an insurmountable 7-2 hole.
The two players with the best games of the afternoon for Stanford came from unfamiliar faces.
Whiting, who got the start at catcher over sophomore Wayne Taylor, continued his early-season success at the plate. Whiting went 2-for-2 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored, earning himself a second consecutive start at catcher Sunday afternoon.
“I love playing back there,” Whiting said. “Unfortunately we had a tough day.”
Though Stanford’s pitching returned on Sunday in the form of freshman starter Bobby Zarubin, the Cardinal’s hitting and defense failed it once again. UNLV scored four unearned runs on two errors in the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie, ensuring a 5-1 victory and an unlikely series sweep.
The inning started out innocently; Zarubin, who had allowed only one earned run through six innings, induced a weak groundout to retire the first Rebel. But pinch-hitter Ryan Scott singled, and the wheels came off from there.
The next two Rebels each grounded into a fielder’s choice, but Stanford could not record an out on either. Kauppila couldn’t handle a potential double-play-starting throw from first baseman Brian Ragira and Whiting couldn’t hang onto the baseball on a home plate collision after a safety squeeze.
UNLV added two singles, the first off Zarubin and the second off junior relief pitcher Sam Lindquist, to score three more runs and blow the game open. When the dust finally settled, four unearned runs had scored and the game was lost.
For Stanford, which had been fielding well through the first few weeks of the season, the poor defense throughout the sweep came as a shock.
“When we’re going well, what we do well [is] pitching and defense,” Ragira said Sunday. “I think defense left us a little bit this weekend. Pitching, except for yesterday’s blowout, [was] pretty solid Friday, pretty solid again today.”
But for Stanford, the bigger concern might be whether the hitting will eventually pick up. Stanford’s bats have been reeling without junior slugger Austin Wilson, who is recovering from an elbow injury that has cost him all but the first game of the season.
Stanford is averaging just 3.67 runs per game on the season, an enormous drop-off from last season’s 6.69 average. A big reason for that has been an inability to hit with runners on base.
“[It’s] just timely hitting,” Ragira said. “We were getting guys on base…Whenever we have guys in scoring position, it’s just coming up with that timely hit. When we get losses we don’t have that, and I think that’s what happened this weekend. During our nine-game win streak they were coming.”
Stanford will have to hope that those hits come soon. The Cardinal has 11 days off for finals break before hosting Utah for the start of Pac-12 play on March 22 at Sunken Diamond. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher “at” stanford.edu.