In a tight series in which all three games were decided by just one run, Stanford’s baseball team (15-17, 6-9 Pac-12) took its first steps to get back into the conference race, taking two of three from Arizona State (21-16, 10-8) — winning Thursday’s and Saturday’s games 4-3 and 1-0, respectively, while dropping Friday night’s contest 3-2.
“[The series win] is important,” said senior reliever A.J. Vanegas. “We were kind of behind the eight ball, and Danny [Diekroeger] before the game, talked about how these are like playoff games. Every game from here on out is going to be a must win to get to the playoffs.”
Senior first baseman Danny Diekroeger capped off a monster week as he provided the game-winning hits in both of Stanford’s wins in the series after he also had a walk-off single in Tuesday’s win over St. Mary’s. On Thursday night, after a comeback effort in the eighth inning to tie the game at three, Diekroeger stepped up with two outs and a runner on second to deliver his second walk-off single in as many games. On Sunday, his fourth-inning solo homer provided the sole run of the game en route to a Stanford win.
Over his last four games, Diekroeger has hit .412 (7-for-17) with 3 RBIs, improving vastly on his performance over his previous nine games, in which he hit just .143 (5-for-35) with 3 RBIs.
“I just happen to get up in those situations, so I was looking forward to helping the team win some games like that,” Diekroeger said. “I was a little down with the bat the past two weeks before this so I was trying to come back and have a good week.”
“For the most part, he was a little anxious [over the slump]. He’s calmed down a little bit and let the ball come to him a bit more,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “He’s smart. He knows himself and he’s worked hard on it. He’s very consistent and knows what he needs to do to hit. And this was his best weekend.”
In Thursday’s game, Arizona State jumped out to a quick lead and knocked freshman Brett Hanewich out of the game early, scoring two runs in the first and one in the fourth. The Cardinal were shut out until the eighth inning, when they managed to tie the game up at three.
With two outs in the eighth, junior Dominic Jose stepped up in a pinch-hit opportunity with a two-run double down the right-field line to narrow the Sun Devil lead to 3-2. The next hitter, freshman Tommy Edman, who was pinch-hitting for sophomore Drew Jackson, delivered an RBI single to score Jose and even the score.
In the ninth, Arizona State got two quick outs before the Cardinal began to rally. Junior Austin Slater and sophomore Zach Hoffpauir drew consecutive walks to put the game-winning run in scoring position with Diekroeger due up. The first baseman lined a 2-0 single into right field to easily score Slater and secure the comeback win.
Despite Diekroeger’s heroics, the Cardinal offense continued its slumber, scoring just seven runs as a team over the three-game set. But their pitching staff held the Sun Devils — who entered the series ranked third in the conference with a .294 batting average against Pac-12 opponents — to just six runs and a .179 average in the series. Stanford’s bullpen in particular has been lights-out as of late, as it is currently riding a 12-inning scoreless streak.
On Friday, in front of a crowd of 1,771, the largest crowd at Sunken Diamond on a Friday so far this season, freshman Cal Quantrill started off strong, striking out three of the first five hitters he faced, effectively working in his off-speed pitches to keep the Sun Devil hitters off balanced.
Yet later in the game, mistakes proved costly for the Cardinal, as a dropped pop-up by senior Alex Blandino and two wild pitches — all in the third inning — allowed Arizona State to jump out to a 3-0 lead once again.
Stanford would rally in the bottom of the sixth, taking advantage of an error by the ASU shortstop with two outs. Freshman Alex Dunlap had an RBI single, which scored two runs after a misplay by the left fielder that allowed the ball to roll all the way to the wall.
Quantrill, who leads the team with 49 strikeouts this season — more than twice the amount of his runner-up, Hanewich—finished the day with six innings pitched and three runs allowed, with one earned.
The Cardinal had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth in yet another comeback effort, as Edman had a pinch-hit double to lead off the inning. But Jackson popped up a bunt and the next two hitters were retired as Arizona State squeaked out its only win of the series.
Junior John Hochstatter had the team’s strongest start of the weekend, as he continued to cement his position as the Cardinal’s third starter after taking over the role from freshman Chris Viall last Sunday in Washington. The Danville, Calif., native pitched 7.2 shutout innings, allowing just three total hits against Arizona State in Saturday’s win, lowering his season’s ERA to a team-best 2.18. Hochstatter had a no-hitter going through 5.1 innings before allowing a single to Sun Devils junior Nate Causey.
Hochstatter’s start was the story of Saturday’s game, as the Sun Devil hitters were being aggressive at the plate and making a lot of contact — Hochstatter had just one strikeout in the game. Diekroeger’s homer provided all the run support Hochstatter needed before Vanegas, who has been dominant since retuning from a back injury mid-season, came in for the 1.2-inning save.
Over 18.1 innings pitched, Vanegas has yet to allow an earned run and has pitched to a 0.82 WHIP. And each of his four saves this season — the most recent one coming on Saturday afternoon in a 1-0 game—have all come in outings lasting longer than one inning.
“The slider and fastball have been really good. But the biggest change for me has been mentality,” Vanegas said. “Before, I used to think a lot about my pitches and try to correct it. Now, it’s just about going out there and attacking the hitters. If you throw a ball, so be it. ‘So what’ is what we say in the dugout. That’s the mindset you have to take out there, especially when you’re pitching in the ninth when everybody is going crazy when you throw one ball.”
The Cardinal will look to take advantage of some weaker competition ahead, but they have a busy week. The team travels to Santa Clara on Tuesday and St. Mary’s on Wednesday before welcoming Cal to Sunken Diamond in a three-game series that starts on Saturday afternoon.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.