Down 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Sun Devils staged a comeback punctuated by a walkoff pinch-hit sacrifice fly from the bat of Myles Denson. The Cardinal put out their closer, junior RHP Jack Little for the save, but the All-American was unable to shut the door.
“This was a tough loss, but we need to pick ourselves up off the ground sometimes,” Stanford head coach David Esquer said. “This is baseball, and baseball can be cruel.”
Arizona State’s (37-15, 16-11 Pac-12) 6-5 defeat of No. 4 Stanford (39-11, 20-7 Pac-12) prevents the Cardinal from repeating as Pac-12 champions. With the loss and No. 12 Oregon State’s (35-17-1, 20-7) defeat, No. 1 UCLA (46-8, 23-5 Pac-12) wins the Pac-12. It was Stanford’s first loss despite leading after eight innings.
The Cardinal put two runs on the board in the first inning with a pair of two-out RBI singles. The Sun Devils’ Alec Marsh (9-3, 3.17 ERA) issued a leadoff walk to junior left fielder Kyle Stowers (.298/.371/.511). Marsh retired the next two batters, but was unable to prevent Stowers from taking second base. Junior DH Will Matthiessen walked, and the reigning NCBWA National Player of the Week junior first baseman Andrew Daschbach (.318/.402/.659) came through with a single up the middle. The next pitch, redshirt junior second baseman Duke Kinamon (.322/.356/.513) singled to left field to being home Matthiessen and the second Cardinal run.
It was a rocky start for sophomore RHP Brendan Beck (4-3, 3.68 ERA), but Stanford’s ace escaped a bases-loaded no-out jam, allowing just a single run. Two straight singles from Spencer Torkelson (.359/.457/.709) and Trevor Hauver (.342/.426/.587) put two runners on, and Beck added a third with a full count walk to Hunter Bishop (.356/.484/.790). Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, members of the Miami Marlins management who represent the fourth pick in the upcoming MLB draft, were in attendance to watch Bishop, a top prospect.
A sacrifice fly from Alika Williams scored Torkelson, but Beck responded with a strikeout before inducing an inning-ending groundout fielded by sophomore shortstop Tim Tawa.
Stanford managed just one hit in the second inning and went down in order in the third. But in the fourth, the bat of redshirt junior third baseman Nick Bellafronto (.282/.402/.515) provided the Cardinal with a brief two-run lead. Bellafronto hit his fourth home run of the season to left center field.
Despite picking up his fifth strikeout of the game and recording an out via a groundout to Kinamon at second base, Beck allowed a single and a walk to put a runner in scoring position. Hauver flared a full-count two-out single into center to plate a run for the Sun Devils, and Beck hit the next batter to load the bases. A lazy pop-up off the bat of Williams almost fell for a hit, but sophomore Christian Robinson charged in from center field to end the inning. After four innings, the Cardinal led 3-2.
Handley reached on a bunt single and advance to second on an error by the third baseman Gage Workman. Unfortunately, he was caught stealing as Marsh faced the minimum in his final inning of work. Marsh struck out four in 5.0 innings, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks.
Beck could not make it out of the fifth inning for the third consecutive outing, a mark he had failed to reach just once in his first eleven starts. Sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch (3-1, 4.47 ERA) relieved Beck after a one-out walk and scattered a hit to pitch a scoreless frame. Returning for the sixth, Palisch recorded two more outs before he was replaced by junior RHP Zach Grech, who promptly recorded an inning-ending strikeout with two runners on base.
In the top of the frame, Daschbach crushed the very first pitch thrown by reliever Blake Burzell (5-0, 3.89 ERA), restoring the two-run lead and tallying his 17th home run of the year. Kinamon singled and advanced to second on a Tawa bunt, but in a theme that would continue into the seventh inning, he was not driven home.
On the first pitch of the seventh inning, Stowers reached second on a hustle double. He then stole third before Handley walked on four pitches despite feigning a bunt attempt. Senior right fielder Brandon Wulff (.266/.390/.601) was hit by Burzell’s pitch, but the freshman pitcher was left in with the task of escaping the bases-loaded no-out jam. He got Matthiessen to ground into a fielder’s choice, Daschbach to strike out, and then Kinamon’s bouncer was fielded cleanly to close the frame. In total, the Cardinal stranded ten runners on Thursday.
With the help of a double play, Grech faced the minimum in the seventh and was able to return for the eighth, this time with a three-run advantage. Bellafronto doubled off of the Sun Devils’ arm out of the bullpen, Luke La Flam (0-1, 7.24 ERA), who was then removed in favor of the eventual winning pitcher, Chaz Montoya (3-0, 3.18 ERA). Sophomore pinch hitter Nick Brueser flied out, but Stowers barreled the two-out first pitch into left field to bring Bellafronto around to score.
Senior Alec Wilson entered as a defensive replacement in center field, but his load was light as Grech retired the side on a pair of strikeouts and a groundout.
Little (3-2, 3.78 ERA) entered for the save in the ninth inning, which could have moved him into a tie for first place in the all-time career saves list, but blew the opportunity and took the loss. Little allowed a leadoff double to Bishop, and then Williams came back from 0-2 to work a full count. He hit an RBI single into left, which prompted Esquer to hold a one-on-one meeting with his All-American closer.
The Sun Devils’ Lyle Lin threw his bat at a 2-2 pitch that fell for a hit and was replaced on the bases by a pinch runner, Boyd Vander Kooi. Workman pieced a double down the left field line that scored a run and put the tying run in scoring position, which forced the Cardinal to intentionally walk Carter Aldrete (.280/.353/.456).
Cole Austin flied out to right field, which moved all of the runners 90 feet closer to home, including the tying run. Myles Denson (.293/.359/.427), who learned he would be pinch hitting as Austin stepped to the plate, fell behind 0-2 before lifting one into left for the game-winning run.
Little has now allowed nine runs in his past five outings after a 2018 campaign in which he surrendered just three runs all season while tallying sixteen saves. The Cardinal return to action Friday at 6 p.m. PT in the desert with RHP Matthiessen (5-2, 4.22 ERA) on the mound.
“[Friday] we’ll have to come out hungry to rebound,” Esquer said. “The rest of the series is an opportunity for us to show our character as a team heading into the postseason.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.