After impressing in all four of his weekday starts this season, Arizona coach Andy Lopez decided that it was time for junior Xavier Borde to move into the weekend rotation. His debut did not go as planned.
The left-hander (2-1) allowed four runs without recording an out to start the game on Sunday night, leaving to a standing ovation from a sarcastic but thankful group of Arizona State fans. The Sun Devils would not look back from there, cruising to a 13-7 win to clinch a series victory against their rivals.
Staring at a large early deficit following last night's heartbreaking loss, the Wildcats should get credit for battling through the next four innings. They cut the deficit to three on a leadoff homer off the bat of Bobby Dalbec to start the second, but the maroon and gold responded with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the frame.
Still, the visitors would plug away against Arizona State starter Ryan Kellogg. The southpaw (6-1) pitched well enough to earn his sixth victory of the season, but he did struggle with command at times on Sunday.
"He was just getting behind every hitter," coach Tracy Smith said. "It seemed like it was 2-0 for every single guy."
His worst inning came in the third when shortstop Kevin Newman jumped on a 2-0 pitch left up in the zone. The ball carried the fence in left center easily, and just like that Arizona was withing striking distance once again. Newman's shot, however, wasn't even the best hit ball of the inning.
That title belongs to the next batter, Riley Moore. Moore blasted yet another 2-0 pitch from Kellogg deep into straightaway center field, but Johnny Sewald timed his jump perfectly and ended up robbing the Wildcats of back-to-back home runs.
"It is funny because last week at practice they were working on those wall balls," said Smith. "In my mind I said, 'what the heck are we doing, these stupid wall balls.’ Well it paid off, so I’ll just shut up."
Arizona used the momentum to come up with single runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, but the Sun Devil offense answered back in a big way in the bottom of the fifth.
Trever Allen and Joey Bielek led off with back-to-back doubles in the gap, getting one run back and putting some separation between the two teams. The offense was not done, however, as Bielek would come into score on a ball that should have been caught by the Wildcat catcher. That made the score 9-5 and appeared to be the dagger that would finally kill them.
It might have appeared that way, but Arizona fought back to load the bases in its half of the sixth inning. That spelled the end of Kellogg's night, who left after giving up 10 hits.
Smith turned to the rarely used Eric Melbostad out of the bullpen, and the freshman out of Scottsdale did not disappoint. A routine grounder to second got Arizona State out of the jam, and he would go on to pitch two more scoreless innings after that.
"I was just trying to fill up the strike zone and get a ground ball," Melbostad said. "With two down, I just wanted to get out of that."
The Sun Devils exploded for their second four-run frame in the eighth, which just happened to be the icing on the cake of a blowout. They plated an unearned run off reliever Cameron Ming, then got two more runs off wild pitches from Matthew Troupe.
Troupe has fell a long way after being one of the heroes on Arizona's championship team three years ago. This was his first action since taking more than a month off after it was determined he had come back too soon from Tommy John surgery, and he now has an ERA of 81.00 after tonight's mishap.
The Wildcats were able to get two runs in their half of the ninth, but by then the result was clearly in hand. Arizona State improved to 23-9 (11-3) with the 13-7 win, while Arizona dropped to 22-11 (7-7). The Sun Devils will go for the sweep tomorrow at 7:00 PM.
"It is time to mature, grow up, and close out a weekend," Smith says. "There is not going to be much margin of error if you want to win a Pac-12 Championship."
Junior left-hander Brett Lilek will get the start on the mound for the maroon and gold. Fans that don't make it out to Phoenix Muni can catch the game on the Pac-12 Networks.