The Sun Devils fought their way through multiple mistakes of their own creation in Sunday's series finale against TCU, but all of the poorly placed pitches and baserunning blunders would eventually catch up to them. The No. 1 Horned Frogs (6-1) did what elite teams are supposed to, finally breaking through for the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. They would go on to win by a final score of 3-2, taking the series in the process.
The troubles for Arizona State (4-3) began in the first inning. After getting into scoring position with just one out on a hit by pitch and steal, Johnny Sewald tried to swipe third on an aggressive call early in the game. He was thrown out easily by catcher Evan Skoug, and ASU missed a chance to grab some early momentum.
Designated hitter R.J. Ybarra made things right when he came to the plate in the second, lifting a 1-0 pitch into one of the deepest parts of the field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The ball easily cleared the fence, and for the first time all weekend, the maroon and gold drew first blood.
ASU made its first defensive error in the third when Colby Woodmansee's throw on a routine grounder pulled the first baseman off the bag. Joey Bielek attempted to apply the tag but was unsuccessful. TCU brought the tying run home on an RBI single to left field by Derek Odell, but a heads up play by starting pitcher Darin Gillies to cut off the throw to the plate and relay the ball to second ended the inning as the baserunner overran the bag at second.
The play of Gillies was one of the few bright spots on the afternoon. After a horrendous outing a week ago in which he gave up five runs in just 2.1 innings, the right-hander came back and pitched into the sixth inning Sunday. The only other run charged to him was also unearned.
The Horned Frogs tied the game again in the top of the sixth. Down 2-1, Gillies issued a leadoff walk to Connor Wanhanen. Tucker Baca came on in relief after a flyout and promptly gave up a single. Wanhanen then scored from second on an errant pickoff attempt by Baca, the ball getting away from the second baseman and ending up in no-man's land in shallow left field.
"My thought was that he did his job," head coach Tracy Smith said when asked about the decision to pull Gillies. "Let's take him out in a position to win a baseball game. I would do it again."
It looked as if the Sun Devils would retake the lead in the next inning after a leadoff double by Trever Allen. He moved to third on a wild pitch, and then Jake Peevyhouse got aboard via a walk. Dalton Dinatale then popped out to the shortstop for the first out of the inning, so Smith called for a safety squeeze to try and bring Allen home. Brian Serven was unable to get a bunt down, however, and Allen found himself a little too far off the bag at third.
The catcher's throw down the line was a bullet, and the third base umpire ruled that the tag was applied before Allen got back in. Smith was not happy, to say the least, arguing that the third baseman's foot had obstructed any chance of getting back in safely. The call stood and Serven was challenged with bringing home Peevyhouse, who had moved up 90 feet on the play at third. He watched a 3-2 pitch that just caught the outside corner according to the home plate umpire, and just like that the inning was over. An irate Smith then argued that call, which earned him his first ejection as a Sun Devil.
"It was very upsetting," Smith said. "I'm a competitor, and to sit back and see that on our own field? Not acceptable."
The Horned Frogs finally broke through in the top half of the ninth, getting a one out walk and single off reliever Jordan Aboites. The righty then got Jeremie Fagnan to go down on strikes for the second out, and then it was usual closer Ryan Burr that came in out of the bullpen to try and keep the game tied at two.
Cody Jones had other plans, ripping Burr's 2-1 pitch into left field. The throw from Peevyhouse was in time but a little wide of the plate, and Serven was unable to hang onto the ball as he tried a sweeping tag to get the speedy Evan Williams. Burr got the next batter to strike out looking, but the damage had been done.
ASU went down in order in its half of the ninth, and TCU was able to escape Phoenix with a huge series win. Riley Ferrell got the save for the visitors, which was the talented junior's first of the season.
"They're not a club that's going to beat themselves," said Smith. "They're just going to keep coming and capitalize on other people's mistakes."
The Sun Devils dropped to 4-3 on the season with the loss, while the Horned Frogs improved to 6-1. Next up is the Phoenix Muni Classic, which will start on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against Cal State Bakersfield.