In a rain shortened two-game series, No. 3 Stanford (39-10, 20-6 Pac-12) fell to No. 11 Oregon State (35-16-1, 20-6 Pac-12) 5-2 on Sunday to split with the Beavers. Both teams dropped to a game and a half behind No. 1 UCLA (45-8, 22-5 Pac-12), who claimed the top spot in the conference standings with a weekend sweep of Washington (28-22, 12-15 Pac-12).
Before the baseball, Stanford honored its eight graduating seniors, RHP Ben Baggett, third baseman Nick Bellafronto, RHP Michael Boden, second baseman Duke Kinamon, utility Christian Molfetta, outfielder Nick Oar, center fielder Alec Wilson and right fielder Brandon Wulff.
Although the seniors secured the program’s first home win against the Beavers since 2009, the Cardinal were unlucky in the series finale. The first three Oregon State runs were scored without an RBI, which proved to be the difference.
Junior LHP Erik Miller (7-2, 2.93 ERA) battled through the first inning, but the Beavers pushed two across. The inning started well, with a strikeout of Beau Philip, but a double down the right-field line put Jake Harvey (.260/.360/.354) on second, and for the 22nd time this season, the Golden Spikes Award candidate Adley Rutschman (.427/.584/.772) was intentionally walked.
A single off the bat of Troy Claunch (.275/.346/.362) loaded the bases, though Miller responded with a strikeout of first baseman Ryan Ober (.277/.384/.409). A wild pitch glanced off the mask of junior catcher Maverick Handley, and both Harvey and Rutschman scored before the ball was corralled near the Stanford dugout.
“Bad luck in the first inning,” said Stanford head coach David Esquer. “It looked like we were in a position to get out of it, but then a ball goes off Maverick’s mask and it’s two runs.”
Miller worked himself into trouble again in the third inning, and he almost escaped the jam unscathed. Harvey reached on a bunt single and was quickly moved over by Rutschman’s single. After losing Claunch for a walk, Miller struck out the next two batters and was on the brink of escape. Miller, however, came inside and hit Preston Jones to allow a third Beavers run to score before striking out the next batter.
Oregon State’s Zac Taylor (.136/.182/.186), who pinch hit in the third inning and stayed in at first base, led off the fifth inning with his first home run of the season. The next batter, Andy Armstrong (.229/.298/.303), doubled to chase Miller from the game after 4.0+ innings. Miller struck out seven, walked three and allowed five runs on eight hits.
Junior RHP Zach Grech took over on the mound, allowing the inherited runner to score. Handley recorded an out at first on a bunt attempt while preventing Armstrong from advancing to third, and Grech struck out Joe Casey (.278/.373/.435) to reach two outs. Alex McGarry (.304/.423/.514) pinch hit and singled to bring the Oregon State lead to five.
The Cardinal recorded five hits and a walk off RHP Grant Gambrell (5-1, 2.72 ERA), but had nothing to show for it. In the fourth inning, two singles had runners on with no outs, but a double play ended the danger. The next inning, Bellafronto (.273/.398/.475) reached when the Beavers center fielder Jones was ruled to have not made a sliding grab upon umpire review. Two pitches later, however, Wilson (.167/.268/.292) grounded into a double play.
Sophomore shortstop Tim Tawa saved a run in the sixth inning with a diving stop in the 5.5 hole. The play allowed Grech to scatter a single and a hit by pitch for a scoreless frame.
In the bottom of the sixth, RHP Dylan Pearce (2-2, 3.74 ERA) relieved Gambrell, who allowed Stanford’s first run of the game on an RBI single from junior DH Will Matthiessen (.320/.399/.528). Handley (.299/.394/.433) walked to lead off the inning, reached second on a wild pitch, and was waved home on Matthiessen’s stroke into left field.
Despite finding success on four of five steals on Friday, the Cardinal did not run at all on Sunday and paid for it with three double plays.
“When we got behind by those runs early, it makes taking those chances a little too risky,” Esquer said. “You’re always cognizant of making sure the Wulff’s and Matthiessen’s get their at-bats behind them.”
Grech walked the leadoff batter in the seventh inning and was removed in favor of sophomore LHP Austin Weiermiller (6-0, 1.45 ERA). Grech tossed 2.0 scoreless innings, striking out two and walking one. Weiermiller struck out one to maintain a four-run deficit heading into the bottom half, in which the Stanford offense once again stranded a runner.
After inducing a strikeout, Weiermiller walked the next two batters, including Rutschman, who reached base for the fifth time. Sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch (3-1, 4.59 ERA) benefited from the infield defense of Tawa, who started an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Handley’s leadoff double in the eighth inning, the first extra-base hit of the game for the Cardinal, was the last at-bat for Pearce, who was replaced by Christian Chamberlain (3-4, 4.06 ERA). Wulff (.272/.394/.615) skied a ball into center and Handley advanced to third, tagging on the play. This allowed Handley to score on Matthiessen’s fly out to the left-field warning track for his second RBI of the game.
Following a lineout snagged by Bellafronto, RHP Matthiessen (5-2, 4.22 ERA) came on to pitch for the Cardinal, ending Palisch’s outing after a scoreless inning. Matthiessen had been tabbed to start Saturday’s game, but the cancellation due to rain allowed him to enter from the bullpen. The junior allowed three straight singles to load the bases, but caught Philip looking on strike three before Harvey sent a lazy flyout to Wulff in right to end the inning. The Stanford bullpen totaled 5.0 scoreless innings on Sunday after 4.2 shutout innings on Friday.
“We wanted to keep it right there, keep it within striking distance, and we did,” Esquer said.
Chamberlain hit Kinamon (.320/.354/.517) with his third pitch of the inning and was relieved by LHP Jake Mulholland (3-2, 1.94 ERA) after throwing a first-pitch ball to pinch hitter Molfetta (.100/.182/.400). Molfetta grounded into Stanford’s third double play of the game, and Bellafronto flew out to the warning track for the final out. Mulholland earned the save, his eighth of the year.
“Live by the sword die by the sword,” Esquer said. “A couple of fly balls that may travel under different conditions.”
Stanford had homered in 19 of the past 20 games, but was confined by the Beavers pitching. The Cardinal also failed to reach double-digit hits for just the sixth time in 18 games. Stanford has not claimed a series against Oregon State in Sunken Diamond since 2003, with the most recent series win coming on a sweep in 2010.
“We were struggling offensively,” Esquer said. “It seemed like we were sluggish today.”
Stanford’s next matchup is its final home contest of the regular season, with the University of Pacific (23-26, 10-16 WCC) coming to Sunken Diamond Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. PST.
“We’ve got a lot on the line,” Esquer said. “A year ago, the second best team in our conference won the national championship.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.