In the first seven innings of Thursday night's contest between ASU and Cal State Bakersfield, Sun Devil starter Seth Martinez was nearly untouchable. The right-hander struck out nine Roadrunner batters, and the only run he allowed came on an RBI single by Chance Gusbeth in the top of the second.
But Martinez's arm is not made of rubber, and he had to exit the game after tossing 96 pitches through seven innings of work. Head coach Tracy Smith was forced to go to the bullpen, a move that turned a somewhat boring night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium into an exciting one.
The maroon and gold jumped out to an early advantage in their Phoenix Muni Classic opener, getting two runs in the first off a hard hit single by Christopher Beall. After Bakersfield got their only run off Martinez in the second, the home team struck back quickly. They got back-to-back singles to open the third, and an R.J. Ybarra sacrifice fly put them up 3-1. Dalton Dinatale got the team one more insurance run in the fourth, taking the first pitch he saw off Roadrunner starter Hayden Carter over the fence in right field, the ball curving just inside the foul pole.
Both pitchers settled in after that. Carter's infield cooked up a 5-4-3 double play behind him to erase the threat of more runs in the fourth, a play that would end up being much bigger than it seemed at the time. They tried to answer back in the top half of the fifth with a two out double, but Martinez battled back and got himself out of the jam.
Smith called upon sophomore reliever Eder Erives out of the bullpen to open the eighth, who promptly loaded the bases after a fielding error, walk, and hit batsman. Second baseman Jordan Aboites took to the mound after that looking to get an out, but instead allowed a hard hit single to right that scored two runs. He worked the next batter to a 1-2 count before Smith opted to bring in closer Ryan Burr.
The flame-thrower got that batter to fly out, but next to the box was pinch hitter Joey Sanchez. He did his job, hitting a slow grounder to second that Aboites had no chance of throwing home to cut down the tying run. Just like that, a three run lead had evaporated and Bakersfield had all the momentum in the world, even after Burr finished the inning with a three pitch strikeout.
Forced to bat in the bottom half of the inning, Burr was actually the only Sun Devil to reach base, representing the go-ahead run. After working a full count, Burr took a pitch on the inside corner of the plate. The umpire didn't budge, and down to first trotted the usual pitcher. Beall was unable to pick up his third RBI, however, instead going down on strikes to get the Roadrunners out of the jam.
"Obviously it's a very serious situation, but at the same time you've got guys kind of giggling about it since it's Ryan Burr hitting," Aboites said about watching the closer at the plate.
Burr was masterful again in the ninth, striking out the side and setting up his team with a chance to win it in the bottom half of the frame. They would do just that.
Trever Allen led off the inning and took the first pitch he saw to deep left field, almost in the exact spot where Colby Woodmansee's walkoff home run left the yard two weeks ago. This ball would bounce off the top of the fence, then off the left fielder's glove, which allowed Allen to motor into second without a throw. Joey Bielek was then walked to set up a potential double play ball, but that plan was foiled when the pitcher was called for a balk, moving both runners up 90 feet. Given the open bag and a choice between David Greer and Aboites, Bakersfield opted for the latter, issuing another free pass to Greer. The decision was not a good one.
Aboites got himself into a hitter's count and ripped a 2-1 pitch into an open space in left field, scoring Allen from third without a play.
"I was just trying to stay back and drive something deep," Aboites said. "I was just really focused on trying to get this win."
ASU improved to 5-3 with the win, while the Roadrunners dropped to 3-6 on the season. Burr ended up getting the win, his first of the year, and reliever Alec Daily, who worked the eighth and ninth innings, took the loss.
Next up for the Sun Devils is a doubleheader on Friday, beginning at 2:00 PM against this same Cal State Bakersfield club. They will take on Purdue in the nightcap of the twinbill. Starters for each game are still to be determined.