Inches are a pretty small measurement, but sometimes that's all it takes to win a game. A couple inches was all it took for Long Beach State to overcome the Sun Devils Saturday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the old cliche about baseball being won and lost by the smallest of margins coming to fruition.
ASU starter Ryan Kellogg turned in a tremendous performance on the mound, leaving the game in the eighth inning with a 2-0 lead and runners on first and second. Jordan Aboites took over in relief and made a very athletic play to get the first out of the inning, but the next batter would have the biggest play of the night.
Aboites left a 3-2 pitch up in the zone and Long Beach State's Zack Rivera connected, driving the ball to the corner in right field. The ball just barely snuck over the wall, staying fair by one or two inches in the process. Just like that, Kellogg's hard work was erased and the Dirtbags had a 3-2 lead.
"I thought he had thrown an excellent baseball game," head coach Tracy Smith said. "You always want your starter to leave a performance like that with a chance to get a win."
The performance would have gotten the job done on most nights. The southpaw only issued two walks while striking out eight batters, showing off some of the best command we have seen all season.
"He was pitching down and pitching aggressively," said Smith. "Kellogg being Kellogg, really. He was really good today."
The Sun Devils jumped on the visiting team for the second straight night, using small ball in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead. Johnny Sewald led off the inning and was hit by a pitch from Long Beach State starter Tanner Brown. Sewald stole second and then moved to third on a wild pitch, and designated hitter R.J. Ybarra brought him home with a hard hit single to the gap in right center field.
Brown made a concerted effort early on of holding the ball on the maroon and gold, trying to limit the running game by taking a long time between pitches.
"I know that's strategically what they try to do," Smith said when asked about the pace of play. "It wasn't our best offensive performance."
After that rocky start, Brown settled in and gave the Dirtbags a solid outing. He continued to frustrate ASU hitters, and their fans, and the only other mistake he made came in the bottom of the sixth. It was once again Sewald that led things off with a walk, and he came in to score on a Trever Allen single to right field. That put the Sun Devils ahead 2-0, but Rivera's blast a couple of innings later gave Long Beach State a lead that it would not relinquish.
Aboites (0-2) took the loss for the maroon and gold. The defeat dropped their record to 8-5 on the season, while the Dirtbags improved to 9-5. The two teams will meet again tomorrow for the rubber match, with first pitch scheduled for 12:30 PM.