The Cardinal bats finally awoke, erupting for 20 runs on 40 hits over the weekend at USC as Stanford again took two out of three games from a Pac-12 opponent on the road but fell just short of a sweep for the second weekend in a row.
On Friday night, Stanford (16-10, 5-4 Pac-12) got a rare scare for a start from senior starting pitcher Mark Appel. The senior had been simply dominant over his past five starts, allowing three earned runs while striking out over 12 per outing, but fell behind 2-0 to USC (12-19, 5-7 Pac-12) on a two-RBI double by left fielder Timmy Robinson in the bottom of the fifth inning.
But the Cardinal answered right back. Sophomore third baseman Alex Blandino walked, junior second baseman Danny Diekroeger singled and junior shortstop Lonnie Kauppila bunted both of them over to put runners on second and third with only one out.
Stanford head coach Mark Marquess then had a tough decision to make. Junior slugger Austin Wilson was due up to bat, but Friday was Wilson’s first game back since he injured his elbow back at Rice in the season-opening series.
Marquess opted to pinch hit for Wilson with sophomore switch hitter Dominic Jose. The move backfired, as Jose struck out, leaving runners on second and third with two outs.
Luckily for the skipper, Stanford’s unlikely star of 2013, junior catcher Brant Whiting, bailed him out in a big way. After falling behind 0-2, the lefty worked the count full and then put the payoff pitch over the right field fence for a three-run homer, the first of his career, to give Stanford a 3-2 lead.
That was all the run support Appel would need, though the Cardinal added an unearned insurance run in the seventh. The righty settled down well to get within one out of his fourth complete game. But after Appel put the tying run on base with a two-out walk, Stanford turned to junior pitcher AJ Vanegas to close out the game. Five pitches later, Vanegas induced a weak ground ball and earned a one-out save, his third save of the year.
On Saturday, Stanford had its first double-digit run performance of the season, which was more than enough for freshman left-handed pitcher Logan James (1-2) to earn the victory.
Early on, it looked like USC was the team gearing up for an offensive explosion. The Trojans chased Stanford freshman starting pitcher Marcus Brakeman from the game with the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the second inning.
With the Cardinal and Trojans tied at two—Stanford scored two unearned runs in the top of the second—James pulled the nearly impossible. The lefty struck out USC center fielder Greg Zebrack for the first out and then induced an inning-ending double play ball from second baseman Adam Landecker for the Houdini, one of baseball’s rarer accomplishments.
James’ magic act was big for momentum, as Stanford’s offensive onslaught began two innings later.
First, Kauppila knocked in Diekroeger to regain the lead in the top of the fifth with a single up the middle. Then, after USC tied it once again in the bottom of the inning, Stanford came right back when Diekroeger knocked in sophomore right fielder Austin Slater, stole second and scored on a Whiting single the next at bat.
Stanford added another run in the seventh, three in the eighth and one more in the ninth for a total of eight runs over the last five innings to take the game easily, 10-3.
Sunday was payback for USC. The Trojans chased another Cardinal freshman starting pitcher in the bottom of the second, this time Bobby Zarubin, after scoring two unearned runs without a hit. The Trojans added another unearned run off senior reliever Garrett Hughes before the Card could get out of the inning.
After Stanford tied the game with two runs in the top of the fourth, including one on a solo homer from junior first baseman Brian Ragira, USC battled back for another big lead, scoring three runs off junior pitcher Sam Lindquist and senior Dean McArdle—though all three runs were charged to Lindquist.
But Stanford’s hitters weren’t done.
The Cardinal roared back in the top of the eighth to tie the game at six. Slater capped the rally with a two-RBI triple with only one out. But Slater couldn’t score on sophomore catcher Wayne Taylor’s ground out to shortstop, and Blandino lined out to right to end the threat.
The inability to knock in Slater from third would come back to haunt Stanford just moments later, when USC third baseman James Roberts homered to left field off AJ Vanegas to take the lead 7-6. Stanford threatened in the top of the ninth but couldn’t come back for the third time, allowing USC to salvage the series with a 7-6 victory.
Stanford closes out a four-game road swing Tuesday at San Jose State. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher “at” stanford.edu.