There was a glaring difference between Trevor Williams and Mark Appel on Friday night. When each pitcher faced middle inning jams, Appel worked his way out of them while Williams struggled.
Williams allowed five runs to score during the third and fourth innings, which immediately put the Sun Devils in a hole. That was all the run support Appel would need as the Cardinal went on to beat No. 8 Arizona State 5-3 in front of a packed Packard Stadium.
To Williams' credit, he controlled the game fairly well, but the Stanford hitters still found ways to beat him.
"He was making some good pitches. It's baseball. It's a couple of balls that weren't what I considered scorched, but they were hit where we weren't playing," coach Tim Esmay said.
The bright spot was even though they came a few runs too late, the hard throwing right-hander was able to pitch inning-ending double play balls in the third and fourth, but not before the Cardinal did some damage.
Williams' counterpart Appel proved to nearly 100 scouts in attendance that he is worthy of being a top pick in the June MLB Draft.
"Honestly, he pitched unbelievable. That was one of the best pitching performance I'd seen in a long time, if not ever," ASU right fielder Trever Allen said.
The secret to his success is clearly the use of his off-speed pitches. He kept the Sun Devil lineup to a quiet five hits, though Arizona State battled at the end to make it interesting with the three runs they scrapped away off Appel.
He racked up 13 strikeouts in his seven and two thirds innings pitched and actually saw his ERA rise to a 1.56 en route to his eighth win of the season.
"For guys like him who throw so hard with such good off-speed pitches, I mean it's extremely tough for all of us, especially since I am a right-handed hitter," Allen said. "With his slider, he could pinpoint it wherever he wanted it and you couldn't take your mind off that he might be throwing a fastball. And if you're not thinking fastball he could sneak one right by you because he throws that hard. For myself, it's probably one of the best pitchers I'll ever face."
Coming from a guy who is hitting .320 on the year with a team-leading seven round trippers and 36 RBI's, it's safe to say Allen has a lot of respect for the Cardinal's ace. I'm sure his teammates would agree considering Appel struck out every batter in the Sun Devil lineup at least once.
Both Esmay and Allen mentioned in the post game press conference that they had wished they could have ran up the pitch count on Appel a little earlier in the evening because he was comfortable for the majority of the time.
"I felt like we could have done a little bit more to (Appel), I really do. I don't think we got him on his heels enough and he had some innings where he didn't have a lot of pitches so it allowed him to go deeper in the game," Esmay said. "We made him uncomfortable in the fourth and really took some good swings. You can't hit him late (in the game). Because he varies his slider and his change-up is pretty good."
Maybe the Sun Devils were unable to get to Appel early, but the Stanford line-up was able to string some hits. In a bases loaded, one out situation, center fielder Austin Wilson was able to drive the ball up the middle just past the outstretched glove of Drew Stankiewicz to score two runs. Wilson also doubled in the seventh inning.
Danny Diekroeger followed up the two RBI single with another RBI to clear the bases. Fans made sure they were vocal because they did not agree with either one of the two walks given up to load the bases that inning.
The Cardinal tacked on two more insurance runs in the next inning and that was all they needed to get off of Williams. It was a phenomenal game from a pitching standpoint and both staffs combined for 26 strikeouts.
For those of you who are wondering about the math, that means 48 percent of the outs on Friday were recorded with players heading for a long walk back to their respective dugouts.
The Sun Devils still had a chance in the ninth with the typing run at the plate, but Wilson was able to track down a well-struck ball in the gap to end the game.
"Tonight we played a full nine (innings). As long as we are playing until that last out is made and we're not giving up at-bats and we're playing hard, then I'm fine with (losing a close game)," Allen said.
"Tomorrow is another day. I agree with Trever, our guys played hard. They played for nine and didn't give anything away," Esmay follwed up.
If Friday night was any indication, the fans will be in for a treat and will have one or two chances to see if their Sun Devils can pick up their 30th win of the season.