The wheels fell off of Stanford baseball’s rally for the postseason when the Cardinal shockingly dropped a 10-8 contest to San Jose State (18-36, 10-20 Mountain West) in a tough home defeat. Stanford (24-22, 11-13 Pac-12) lost for the first time this season when scoring more than five runs and was served its first midweek loss due to a poor performance on the mound and two costly errors that resulted in four unearned runs.
San Jose State capitalized on two big innings to pull off the improbable comeback victory, scoring four runs in the fourth and five runs in the sixth. Despite entering the contest 19 games below .500 and with an RPI of 192, the Spartans’ offense picked up timely hits and took advantage of seven walks and three hit batsmen from Stanford’s pitching, as the Cardinal struggled with control all night long.
“I think we gave them too much — we walked seven and hit three,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “We just gave them a lot of free baserunners and they’re a good hitting team. They had two big innings, which is the difference.”
With a home loss against far worse opposition (Stanford ranked over 160 spots higher than San Jose State in the RPI rankings) from a weaker conference, Stanford’s postseason hopes suffered a major blow. The Cardinal had won 13 of their last 18 games to climb back into the postseason picture and put themselves right on the postseason bubble. But according to WarrenNolan.com, Stanford dropped over 10 spots in RPI from the defeat, from 31st to 42nd. The loss likely forces Stanford to win out if it wants a chance to make the postseason — though that’s not an impossible task considering the opponents they will face.
Stanford actually led 4-0 through three innings after a two-run home run from junior Alex Blandino in the first inning, his Pac-12-leading ninth homer of the year, and an RBI single from sophomore Brant Whiting in the third inning. In the top of the fourth, however, San Jose State scored four runs on four singles, two walks and an error. Despite making little hard contact, the Spartans strung together several bloopers into the outfield and choppers that just made it through the infield to tie the game at four.
RBI singles from senior Danny Diekroeger and Whiting in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, again handed Stanford its second lead of the game at 6-4. Whiting continued his as-of-late impressive performances at the plate, finishing 3-for-5 with three RBIs, and is now hitting .459 over his last 11 games.
Disaster struck in the sixth inning for the Cardinal as they could not escape the inning, allowing five runs on four hits, two walks, two hit batters and an error. Three different players pitched in the inning for Stanford but none could find the strike zone consistently until sophomore Marcus Brakeman entered to get the final out.
The shocked Cardinal attempted a rally in the seventh inning, scoring a run to close the gap to only two runs at 9-7 after junior Dominic Jose’s sacrifice fly. A run in the top of the ninth inning for San Jose State sucked the remaining life out of the Cardinal, and after putting runners at first and third to start the inning, a run-scoring double play and a strikeout officially ended the game in a 10-8 victory for the Spartans.
The script flipped on the Cardinal, which had seen their offense fail to support their pitching several times throughout the season (most notably the seven times in which Stanford scored zero or one runs in a game) but this time lost because the pitching and defense couldn’t back up the hitting. Stanford entered the game leading the Pac-12 in fielding percentage in conference games and ranked 13th overall in the nation in that category but had two throwing errors in the infield.
“We made two errors which really hurt us in the two innings in which they scored a lot of runs,” Marquess said. “Sloppy defense and giving them a lot of free baserunners came back to hurt us.”
Still, the Cardinal have scored 43 runs (6.1 runs per game) over their past seven games as the offense has heated up from its inconsistent performance through the first half of the season.
“We hit the ball well but they only walked us twice,” Marquess added. “We had more hits but they didn’t give us a lot of free baserunners.”
Both junior Austin Slater and sophomore Zach Hoffpauir recorded three hits as they extended their hit streaks to 10 and eight games, respectively. Slater has hit .500 (20-for-40) during that stretch while Hoffpauir has also posted multiple hits in six straight games. The team totaled 14 hits, outhitting San Jose State, but left runners in scoring position in the sixth and eighth innings as the rally fell short.
The Cardinal have seven games remaining this season against Washington State, Pacific and Utah and should be favored to win in all of their contests. The loss, however, dramatically increases the importance of Stanford winning out.
Stanford hosts Washington State at Sunken Diamond for a three-game series starting this Friday at 7 p.m. on Fireworks Night.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.