After 18 innings played across 5 hours and 45 minutes, those left in Sunken Diamond from the announced crowd of 829 stood up, applauded and shuffled out. Opposing pitcher Nick Hull had just painted the black for a called third strike, the game’s 36th, on sophomore second baseman Austin Kretzschmar.
The spectators had already heard “Take me out to the ballgame” twice, first in the traditional seventh inning stretch and then hours later during the 14th inning stretch.
There is no such thing as free baseball.
Matching the longest game in program history, Stanford (1-8, 0-0 Pac-12) fell 5-3 to Grand Canyon (6-3, 0-0 WAC) in 18 innings. The Cardinal had 11 hits to the Antelopes seven, but the visitors were able to strike for three runs in the top of the 18th, despite going hitless in the frame, which proved to be the difference.
Sophomore RHP Cody Jensen became the fifth Cardinal pitcher to enter the game in the top of the 18th and loaded the bases without allowing a hit. The erratic outing continued with a walk of the go-ahead run, but lasted just one more pitch. After opening the next count with a ball, Jensen was relieved by fifth year RHP Jackson Parthasarthy. The graduate transfer from Rice walked in one run and allowed another inherited runner to score before the frame ended.
“It’s just hard to watch when they didn’t get a hit to score three runs,” said Stanford head coach David Esquer ’87. “You want to get beat by achievement, you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot.”
Freshman second baseman Owen Cobb led off the bottom half with a double and came around to score, but the Cardinal could not complete the rally. Stanford left nine runners on base in extra innings, including three in the 15th. Redshirt senior catcher Christian Molfetta could not capitalize on the best opportunity for a walk-off, grounding out with the bases loaded.
“We just have not been able to put any offense together,” Esquer said. “We had a couple opportunities, a couple runners in scoring position with the game on the line.”
Junior RHP Brendan Beck threw the first pitch at 6:05 p.m. PT and by all accounts had a sterling outing. He retired the first seven batters he faced. Through seven innings, he had struck out five, allowed two hits and issued two walks. Four times Beck sat down the side in order.
The ace even began the eighth inning with a three-pitch strikeout. Only then, David Avitia fouled off five straight pitches and walked on the tenth pitch of his at bat. Beck responded with a strikeout, his seventh and final, but was taken deep by Channy Ortiz for a two-out, two-run, game-tying home run on his 103rd pitch. A groundout ended the eight-inning outing, the longest of the season for a Cardinal pitcher.
“Beck was pitching so great and then one swing got him,” Esquer said.
Stanford struck first in the fourth inning, playing small ball to push across two runs against the Lopes’ Kade Mechals. Junior first baseman Nick Brueser hit a sacrifice fly to left and senior third baseman Nick Bellafronto executed a sacrifice bunt.
Brueser and freshman outfielder Brock Jones each struck out four times. As a team, Stanford struck out 18 times.
“Our guys are trying hard, they’re just not playing well,” Esquer said.
Six of Stanford’s 11 hits came from freshmen. Zach Sehgal led the way, hitting 2-for-3 off the bench.
Freshman Carson Greene, who was the team’s best hitter in the fall, but was injured in January and has been unavailable until Friday, found himself slotted in the three-hole as the designated hitter for his debut.
After four years at La Jolla Country Day, Greene prepped at The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut. It was there that he caught the eye of Esquer and Stanford baseball.
Greene reached base seven times on Friday, going 1-for-2 with a groundout, a single and six walks, one shy of tying the NCAA record.
Taft coach Andrew Prince praised Greene’s baseball savvy.
“He hits with power, he hits for average and not only that, but he’s got a great sense of plate discipline and understanding of what’s going on,” Prince said. “Situationally, he knows what we need him to do. You watch him take situational batting practice, he does it as well as anybody. And then he’ll put four balls in the pond.”
The Cardinal lost 5-4 to Cal on May 25, 2012 and defeated Arizona 5-4 on April 5, 2002 in their only other 18-inning games. Esquer, Cal’s head coach at the time, was on the other side of the marathon in 2012.
“It’s kind of a crazy game,” Esquer said.
The first out of the pen, sophomore RHP Brandon Dieter, threw 2.2 innings with three strikeouts and one hit. Senior RHP Zach Grech followed with 3.1 clean innings, scattering two hits and a walk with five punch-outs.
Freshman RHP Nathan Fleischli came on next with one hit, two walks and two strikeouts across 3.0 scoreless innings. Then in the 18th, the Antelopes pushed across three runs against Jensen and Parthasarathy.
In total, Stanford used 18 position players and six pitchers to throw 249 pitches. Grand Canyon used 13 hitters and eight pitchers, who threw 328 pitches.
Coming into the game, just 28 of Stanford’s 50 runs allowed were earned. The trend continued Friday with two more unearned runs and four errors added to the tally.
When the two teams met last year during the opening weekend in Phoenix, Arizona, Stanford won 14-4.
Stanford will get another crack at the Antelopes on Saturday. First pitch is set for 2 p.m. PT.