Stanford baseball saw its streak of four straight series wins come to an end in Tucson after losing two of three over the weekend to the Wildcats. Arizona (22-14, 7-8 Pac-12) pitching was able to shut down Stanford’s bats for two 4-1 victories before Stanford (19-11, 7-5) was finally able to mount a late rally in the finale to claim a dramatic come-from-behind 6-5 win to avoid the sweep.
Down to the Cardinal’s last out in the top of the ninth inning on Sunday and down 5-4 to the sweep-minded Wildcats, sophomore left fielder Quinn Brodey drove a first-pitch curveball at the letters deep to the right-center field gap. The ball landed on the warning track just out of reach of right fielder Zach Gibbons before taking a wild carom away from both Wildcats converging on the ball.
Freshman Nico Hoerner — sporting a four-hit game of his own — easily scored the tying run from first. But interim third-base coach Jon Karcich wasn’t done, and as Brodey dug for third base for a triple, Karcich kept his arm moving and waved his sophomore home.
Brodey took his turn around third just as Gibbons started to throw to the infield. With Hoerner furiously gesturing for Brodey to slide into home, the lightning-fast Brodey whizzed across the plate standing up with Stanford’s sixth run of the ballgame a few feet behind Arizona catcher Ryan Haug, who had taken a few steps onto the infield grass to receive the throw without a short hop.
Hoerner went wild. Brodey went wild. Karcich went wild. And the whole Stanford bench went wild, celebrating a huge bright spot at the tail end of a largely unsuccessful weekend in which the bats couldn’t get much done to support a pitching staff that more than held its own against the best-hitting team in the conference.
After the bats had come alive to average 6 runs per game over the last two weekends against USC and UCLA, hopes were high that Stanford could continue to build on that hitting success to continue to raise the .250 team batting average (ninth in the Pac-12). Unfortunately for the Cardinal hitters, they ran into a buzzsaw in the Arizona starting rotation, which combined for 23.2 innings over the weekend while only allowing 3 earned runs, forcing Stanford to do its damage in limited opportunities against Arizona’s vulnerable bullpen.
In Friday’s opener, freshman Tristan Beck (4-3) actually pitched pretty well, allowing just 1 earned run on 3 hits in 5.0 innings of work, but was undone by uncharacteristic wildness. Beck had entered the game with 42 strikeouts to 9 walks on the season but walked more (3) than he struck out (2) for the first time in his career and labored deep into counts, throwing only 56 of his 94 pitches for strikes.
Beck’s elevated pitch count forced Stanford to dig into its bullpen early. While sophomore Keith Weisenberg pitched well, both Tyler Thorne and Kris Bubic allowed unearned runs on passed balls. Bubic also walked four and allowed an RBI single in a sloppy outing to allow Arizona to get some chippy late runs and extend the lead from 1-0 to 4-0 by the eighth despite the Wildcats only having 5 hits on the ballgame.
Meanwhile, on the other side, defending Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week Nathan Bannister was dealing, allowing just two doubles in the first two innings before retiring 20 consecutive Stanford hitters leading up to a Beau Branton pinch-hit single to lead off the ninth.
Though Stanford was able to tack on a late run on singles by Hoerner and Mikey Diekroeger to close the gap to 4-1, Bannister was able to finish up the second complete game of his career by inducing a Brodey flyout to seal the win for the Wildcats.
Saturday’s game brought essentially a repeat of Friday’s affair except with more hits for Arizona, who pounded out 13 knocks but only picked up 4 runs to show for it.
Junior Chris Castellanos (4-2) turned in a solid yet unspectacular start, as he dealt a career-high 111 pitches in 7.2 innings of work but allowed baserunners in all but one inning. Fortunately for Castellanos and the Cardinal, the lefty was able to hold Arizona to just 2-for-10 hitting with runners in scoring position, keeping Stanford within striking distance throughout.
Castellanos first blinked in the third inning, when an RBI groundout by Gibbons brought home outfielder Justin Behnke, who had tripled to lead off the inning. He would go on to allow three more in the fifth, when two RBI singles and a suicide squeeze extended the lead to 4-0.
And for the second straight day, Stanford’s batters weren’t able to do any damage until the ninth against the Arizona bullpen, as lefty starter Cameron Ming went 7.0 shutout innings while scattering just 5 hits — all singles — and 2 walks in a titanic 126-pitch effort. Stanford finally did break through in the ninth with a two-out, pinch-hit RBI double from senior Austin Barr to bring home Jonny Locher, but it was very much too little, too late as Arizona easily took the second game — and the series — with the victory on Saturday.
Finally, Sunday’s late heroics were spurred by another stretch of starting dominance by a Wildcat, this time by infielder/pitcher Bobby Dalbec, who went 7.2 innings and allowed just one run until a laborious eighth inning in which Stanford finally broke through with three runs.
That was okay with the Wildcats at that point, because Arizona had been heading throughout the game and had stretched the lead to 5-1 before Stanford’s three-run outburst in the eighth, leaving them the lead before Brodey finally buried them in the top of the ninth.
Arizona took an early lead against a wild Chris Viall in his second start of the season by plating one on two walks, a single and a passed ball in the first and tacking on two more on an RBI double and a wild pitch in the second. Viall was eventually pulled after just 2.0 innings after allowing 3 runs on 4 walks and 2 hits in his limited work, which also included 2 wild pitches.
Sophomore Andrew Summerville continued to give the team great long relief whenever he’s been called on to do so, going 4.1 strong innings and allowing 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 strikeouts and a walk in a 59-pitch outing. However, Arizona was able to tack on two more insurance runs in the sixth (suicide squeeze) and seventh (RBI single) to keep stretching the lead to 5-1.
In the eighth-inning rally to push Stanford back into the thick of things, a walk and a hit-by-pitch to start the inning set up an RBI single from Brodey, and an error by third baseman Kyle Lewis brought home another to make it 5-3. Locher’s RBI groundout to second made it 5-4 before Arizona made a pitching change and Tommy Edman grounded into a fielder’s choice to finally end the inning.
Sophomore Colton Hock gave Stanford 2.2 innings of shutout relief, including a quick ninth inning after Brodey’s go-ahead home run, to preserve the late 6-5 Stanford lead and prevent a Stanford sweep at the hands of the Wildcats.
Matt Winaker saw a season-long 14-game reached-base streak snapped in the opener, while Diekroeger saw an 8-game hitting streak also snapped on Saturday. However, in a bright spot, Hoerner went 4-for-5 in the finale to raise his season average to .306, while catcher Alex Dunlap continues his hot hitting, with his average up to a team-leading .325. Little-used senior Austin Barr also had a great day at the plate on Sunday, going 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs while getting the start at DH.
Stanford will next take on Cal in Berkeley in another midweek non-conference tussle before hosting Arizona State at home for three games over the weekend.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.