In a massive Friday night contest, No. 3 Stanford (39-9, 20-5 Pac-12) downed No. 11 Oregon State (34-16-1, 19-6 Pac-12) 8-5 behind offensive firepower and a shutdown bullpen.
“We’re playing a good opponent, who’s got good pitching, runs are going to be a premium,” Stanford head coach David Esquer said. “The more comfortable we get in this type of atmosphere, the better chance that will give us down the road.”
Junior first baseman Andrew Daschbach (.322/.405/.621) and senior right fielder Brandon Wulff (.277/.402/.627) led the charge on offense, combining for five hits, three runs, and two RBIs.
“Historically, Nine [former head coach Mark Marquess] and Esquer have always been preaching pitching and defense will win us games, and everyone in our locker room knows that, understands that, and takes a lot of pride in that,” Dachbach said. “But I also feel that we have some talent in our lineup that maybe Stanford hasn’t had, as of late at least, so I really feel like with any score at any point in the game we can get something going.”
With the win, Stanford remains in a tie for first place in the conference with No. 1 UCLA (42-8, 19-5 Pac-12). “We went at it like a playoff game, and we will every game from here on out,” Esquer said.
Unless the Bruins drop a game, the Cardinal will need to remain perfect over the final five Pac-12 games in order to capture their second consecutive league title. “We don’t see it like we’re defending it, we see it as we’re going after it,” Wulff said.
Junior catcher Maverick Handley (.299/.392/.429) showed off his arm in the first inning to help out his pitcher, sophomore RHP Brendan Beck (4-3, 3.65 ERA), who worked his way into trouble by allowing a single and a walk. For a league-leading sixth time, Handley picked off the runner on first.
Handley singled in the bottom half, making his way to second on a steal and advancing to third on a throwing error by the catcher Adley Rutschman. Rutschman, a Golden Spikes Award candidate, entered the game with just three errors, but allowed two on Friday night. With one out, however, the Cardinal were not able to push across a run against the Beavers starter RHP Bryce Fehmel (7-2, 3.58 ERA).
Beck then allowed a leadoff home run in the second as Alex McGarry provided the Beavers with a brief lead. The Cardinal bats answered in the bottom of the frame to quickly escape the deficit.
“It doesn’t really phase us,” Wulff said. “We don’t press too much because we know what our offense can do.”
“When we get down, everyone in our dugout knows we’re one swing away, guys one through nine can hit the ball out of the ballpark or get a rally going with a double,” Daschbach added.
Two singles from Daschbach and redshirt junior second baseman Duke Kinamon (.319/.351/.521) and a hit by pitch from sophomore shortstop Tim Tawa (.243/.278/.407) loaded the bases. Redshirt junior third baseman Nick Bellafronto (.274/.403/.484) hit the team’s 33rd sacrifice fly of the season, a stat in which the Cardinal were ranked 14th in the nation heading into the game. Sophomore center fielder Christian Robinson (.300/.406/.388) came through with a single. Assisted by a throwing error from the right fielder Tyler Malone, both Tawa and Kinamon came around to score.
The Beavers would not be denied, even by Beck. Beau Philip walked, and scored on the very next bater, as Joe Casey tripled on a full count. Rutschman grounded out for the RBI, knotting the game at three.
Wulff led of the bottom half with a single. Junior DH Will Matthiessen (.314/.397/.526) then looked to have a home run, but he was robbed by Preston Jones scaling the wall. With two outs, Kinamon doubled, but Wulff only made it to third, and the inning ended with a Tawa flyout.
A quiet top of the fourth inning was punctuated by a leaping grab from Stanford’s center fielder, Robinson, to deny Jake Dukart of extra bases. Stanford singled and walked in the bottom half, but a pair of flyouts and a pickoff ended the danger.
Beck would not make it out of the fifth inning, allowing a trio of one-out triples that forced Esquer to go to the bullpen. The final was off the bat of Rutschman, as he recorded his second RBI of the game. Sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch (3-1, 4.69 ERA) was the choice to replace Beck, allowing one inherited runner to score on McGarry’s single.
Despite remaining in the game after being taken deep by Wulff to left field, Oregon State’s starter would also not make it out of the inning. The home run was Wulff’s team-leading 17th of the season, keeping pace ahead of Daschbach, who has 15 after a four home run outburst on Tuesday.
Asked about his opinion on promoting a home run battle, Esquer said, “I’m okay with that. It’s kind of who we are, and I’m going to embrace it.”
As for their opinions, both Wulff and Dachbach were in. “If it means we’re winning games, that’s all that matters,” Wulff said.
“I second that statement,” Daschbach added. “It’s a little friendly competition.”
Matthiessen walked, Daschbach tripled, and Kinamon hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game at five in the fifth inning. Fehmel recorded the second out of the inning on Tawa, but surrendered a double to Bellafronto that prompted the hook and allowed Joey Mundt (0-0, 2.03 ERA) to enter. Mundt hit the first batter he faced, Robinson, and Stowers chopped an infield single to load the bases. Bellafronto capitalized on a passed ball to score, but Handley fouled out to end the rally.
Palisch worked around a two-out single in the top of the frame, and Mundt worked around a two-out Daschbach triple as each pitcher shut down the opposing offense. With 1.2 shutout innings and allowing just two hits, Palisch earned the win. Junior RHP Zach Grech replaced Palisch in the top of the seventh inning and retired the side on eight pitches. On the other side, Mundt sat the Cardinal down on ten pitches. Grech bested himself with a perfect six-pitch inning in the away half of the eighth.
“The guy that’s really turned the tide for us is Grech,” Esquer said. “He’s got going, he’s got hot, and we’re counting on him.”
Mundt could not duplicate his efficiency, and surrendered a single to Stowers before losing Handley after ten pitches for a free base. Wulff fouled out, but a double steal during Matthiessen’s at bat put Stowers ninety feet from the plate. The Beavers opponents were just 14-28 on stolen base attempts heading into the game, but Stanford was 4-5 on the night. Matthiessen took advantage, and hit a sacrifice fly to right for the final insurance run in the 8-5 contest.
“We understand that against a great opponent like that it could take one extra base,” Daschbach said. “We got a lot of guys that can take bags, me not being one of them.”
Stanford sent out All-American junior RHP Jack Little (3-1, 2.76 ERA) for the save opportunity, and he completed the job. Tawa was kept busy, snagging a lineout and throwing across the diamond on a groundout, before Robinson tracked one down in center for the final out. Little threw just seven pitches in the inning, and after allowing runs in his last three appearances, delivered a shutout for his ninth save of the season, moving him into a tie for second place in Stanford’s all time career saves list.
“Those struggles aren’t defining moments, they’re just part of the game,” Esquer said.
In a testament to the strength of the bullpen, the Cardinal are now 33-0 when leading after seven innings. “We feel good about getting the game to the seventh inning and being able to close it out,” Esquer said.
Before the game, Stanford honored its first Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Mike Mussina. “It was really cool to see a big leaguer, a Hall of Famer, talk about guys like it was nothing,” Wulff said.
“He was talking about his first hit off John Smoltz, and little anecdotes that, as baseball junkies, we all really appreciate,” Daschbach added.
The DH in Friday’s game, RHP Matthiessen (5-2, 4.29 ERA) will be sent to the mound tomorrow at 12:05 p.m. PT.
“Mike Mussina came in here as a two way player, played a little shortstop his freshman fall, that didn’t last long,” Esquer said. “It’s an anomaly to get a guy who can really do both.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.