At this point in the season, the Stanford baseball players are getting all too familiar with the adage “when it rains, it pours.” The scuffling Cardinal is in the midst of a torrential downpour right now and it’s not at all pretty.
On Tuesday evening, the Cardinal (26-21, 11-13 Pac-12) hit rock bottom as it fell to Santa Clara (13-37, 0-21 WCC) by a score of 3-0 as Stanford extended its losing streak to six games, spanning arguably the most important stretch of its season.
Stanford’s bats fell completely lifeless as Broncos senior righty Tommy Nance tossed a complete-game masterpiece and kept the Cardinal hitters from making solid contact all evening. Nance only allowed one Stanford hitter to reach second base and was dominant all the way through, going the distance with a gutsy 112-pitch effort.
Nance collected six strikeouts, walked only one, and scattered six hits, never facing more than five batters in any inning. The strong pitching came as a complete surprise to the Cardinal, as Santa Clara’s pitching staff entered the contest with an atrocious 5.60 staff ERA. Nance himself dropped his ERA by almost a full run as a result of the performance from a mediocre 4.58 to a more respectable 3.72.
“For the most part he was just throwing strikes,” said Stanford senior designated hitter Justin Ringo. ”I don’t think we gave our best effort today hitting. He was better than the average guy we faced on Tuesdays but he wasn’t much better than a lot of guys we see on the weekend. I don’t think it was a lack of effort, I just think it was one of those days.”
Ringo had a 2-for-4 day at the plate against Nance, the only Stanford hitter to record multiple hits off of the Broncos right-hander. Both times he was left stranded at first base, highlighting the major problem of the night for Stanford hitting: a chronic inability to advance runners and make use of its limited offensive opportunities.
In the third inning, freshman shortstop Drew Jackson singled to right field before being caught stealing second base to quench the potential threat. In the seventh, junior centerfielder Austin Wilson singled to center to lead off the inning but was unable to advance, as junior backstop Brant Whiting hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Cardinal had one final hope in the bottom of the ninth inning down three runs when junior first baseman Brian Ragira walked to lead off the inning. However, the next hitter, the usually powerful Wilson, hit a routine ground ball to shortstop that was turned into an easy 6-4-3 double play and put the final nail in Stanford’s coffin.
Freshman righty Bobby Zarubin took the hill for the Cardinal, hoping to bounce back from a less-than-stellar outing last Tuesday against San Francisco in which he was pounded for four runs on nine hits. This time around he was more solid, allowing only two runs in four innings of work. Unfortunately, those two runs were enough to do him in on a night when his offense couldn’t get anything going.
The bullpen, however, deserves its share of credit as it limited the Broncos to only three more hits in the remaining five innings of play. Sophomore righty Jordan Kutzer, redshirt junior lefty Garrett Hughes, junior righty A.J. Vanegas and freshman lefty Logan James kept the game close to keep the offense within striking distance.
Of the quartet, only Vanegas struggled in his outing, allowing a runner to cross the plate on a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning. However, that was not necessarily his fault, as he was the victim of sloppy defensive play.
He struck out the first two hitters in order before inducing a lazy pop-up to second base that should have ended the inning but was allowed to drop by junior second baseman Danny Diekroeger, who was yielding to a charging Wilson from center field. The batter made it all the way to second base once the dust cleared.
Vanegas was able to induce a playable ground ball to short from the next hitter, but normally sure-handed freshman shortstop Drew Jackson was unable to play it cleanly and both runners advanced. After that, Vanegas’ control failed him and he walked the bases loaded before walking in an insurance run for Santa Clara.
Going into a three-game series at rival Cal next weekend, the Cardinal desperately needed the victory today against the clearly worst team in the WCC. The Broncos’ 0-21 conference record was not a typo. However, Stanford, now all but eliminated from playoff contention, will be forced to push into the final stretch of the season with a bad taste in its mouth thanks to the surprisingly dominant right arm of Tommy Nance.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.