Shown up on their home field, No. 1 Stanford (42-12, 22-7 Pac-12) was outplayed by No. 3 seed Fresno State (40-14-1, 20-8-1 Mountain West) to the raucous joy of the Bulldogs’ Red Wave. The Cardinal struck out seven times looking, and twelve times overall, as the only two runs in the 2-7 loss came on a pair of long balls.
Playing as the away team, Stanford exploited the first at-bats to take an early lead on a home run from senior right fielder Brandon Wulff (.268/.385/.589) off of RHP Davis Moore (10-1, 3.91 ERA). The long ball was Wulff’s 18th and Stanford’s 80th of the season.
With the help of two incredible defensive plays, junior RHP Will Matthiessen (6-2, ERA) worked around a pair of two-out singles. In the first, sophomore shortstop Tim Tawa (.241/.273/.407) laid out to snag a line drive on the grass. Then, junior catcher Maverick Handley (.291/.395/.429) showed why he was named the Pac-12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year with his eighth pickoff of the season, catching McCarthy Tatum (.361/.403/.608) napping a few steps off first base.
The Cardinal went down in order in the top of the frame, then two more plays in the bottom half from Tawa helped Matthiessen work around Nate Thimjon’s (.266/.307/.364) automatic double.
Although shaken up after fouling a ball off of his leg, sophomore outfielder Kyle Stowers (.306/.371/.515) knocked a two-out single into left field. Handley followed with a walk, but Wulff was unable to replicate his magic and struck out looking.
Matthiessen’s first strikeout was delivered to the first batter of the third inning, Zach Presno (.223/.326/.401). The next batter, Zach Ashford (.388/.496/.539), went down looking and a groundout ended the frame.
Moore hit back-to-back batters in the fourth inning, but Stanford was unable to capitalize and wounded up stranding two more runners. Nolan Dempsey (.340/.393/.555) took advantage in the bottom half, and cleared the left field fence with two outs to tie the game. A single from the next batter resulted in action in the bullpen, but Matthiessen kept the game tied with a groundout.
A caught steal in both halves of the fifth inning helped Matthiessen and Moore face the minimum. The Cardinal went down in order again in the sixth inning as Moore upped his strikeout total to seven.
“[Moore] was throwing fastball, slider, changeup, and pretty much throwing whatever he wanted in any count, keeping our guys off balance,” Daschbach said.
Sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch (4-1, 4.35 ERA) relieved Matthiessen for the bottom of the sixth. Matthiessen tossed 5.0 innings with one run on six hits and three strikeouts.
“He did a nice job against a really tough lineup,” said head coach David Esquer. “If he gives us five solid, or can get us into the sixth, we feel like our bullpen can get us there.”
The bullpen could not, though, and it began with senior center fielder Alec Wilson (.180/.288/.320) losing a ball in the lights for a double. A walk issued to the next batter sent Stanford back to the bullpen with junior RHP Zach Grech (2-0, 3.46 ERA). The two runs that would be charged to Palisch would hand him the loss.
“It was a stalemate in the first five innings,” Esquer said. “They were waiting for a little crack, and the crack came with a ball we couldn’t find in the night sky.”
Handley was able to secure a pop out for the first out, but ahead 0-2 to Dempsey, Grech allowed a single to right field to load the bases. Emilio Nogales sent a full count pitch down the right field line for a two-run double. Thimjon then hit an infield chopper to redshirt junior Duke Kinamon (.313/.352/.488) to trade a run for an out.
In the top of the seventh, Kinamon struck out to become the fifth Cardinal in the last six to go down on strikes. Tawa lined out to the left field warning track, but Moore lost Bellafronto for a walk and the Bulldogs went to the bullpen. Moore threw 6.2 inning, allowing one run on two hits and three walks to accompany eight strikeouts. In a battle between two substitutes, reliever Oscar Carvajal (4-0, 2.82 ERA) struck out redshirt junior pinch hitter Nick Oar (.294/.333/.471) looking.
Sophomore LHP Austin Weiermiller (6-0, 2.51 ERA) was called upon for the bottom of the seventh, and promptly walked the nine hitter. Two missed bunt attempts from Ashford helped Weiermiller record a strikeout, but a walk issued to Bins set the stage for a two-out double by Tatum that, with the runners moving on a full count, resulted in two ‘Dogs runs.
Sophomore RHP Carson Rudd (0-0, 2.95 ERA) replaced Weiermiller and hit his first batter faced, then allowed an RBI single up the middle. A strikeout looking ended the frame.
A leadoff double from Stowers gave the Stanford crowd something to cheer for, and a rally seemed to build when Handley walked. Wulff, however, struck out looking, his third since the home run, and Matthiessen’s piece was caught for a routine fly ball in center field. Junior first baseman Andrew Daschbach walked to load the bases, but Kinamon tapped one on the infield that was handled for the third out.
Rudd worked around an error and a walk to escape the bottom of the eighth inning unscathed.
Stanford secured a consolation run in the ninth inning on a redshirt junior third baseman Nick Bellafronto (.276/.395/.517) home run to match their run total from the early season midweek meeting, but a lot has changed since that Tuesday 2-0 shutout. The night ended, as so many at bats before it, with a strikeout looking for Stowers.
“We were here last year and the year before,” Matthiessen said. “We have to win game one, that’s most important, so we can get to game two.”
“It’s hard to think about winning three games at once, that’s almost impossible to do, but we can win one game three times,” Esquer added.
On Sunday, either junior LHP Erik Miller (7-2, 2.91 ERA) or freshman RHP Alex Williams (7-1, 2.48 ERA) will start in the noon matchup against a Sacramento State (40-24, 18-9 WAC) side the Cardinal beat on Friday.
“Sometimes you need those heroic moments,” Esquer said. “The MVP may need to sit in our dugout if we’re going to get out of this thing.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.