If you spend life on the edge long enough, eventually you're going to fall off. The Arizona State Sun Devils baseball team is learning that lesson the hard way this week, tumbling to the depths of the Pac-12 standings after dropping four straight conference games (in addition to a midweek contest against San Diego). The struggles continued with a 3-1 loss to the Utah Utes Thursday.
The Sun Devils were coming out on the right side of all these tight games earlier this month, winning five straight games by two runs or less. But each of those outings did flirt with disaster, and the team is now learning what happens when you play with fire for too long.
"I think guys are trying, but they're pressing," said head coach Tracy Smith after the loss. "We are talking about young men who are still trying to figure things out. But for whatever reason, we're really struggling."
If one guy didn't struggle, it was right-hander Seth Martinez. The junior got the start on the mound and put forth one of his top performances of the season, only allowing one earned run in seven innings and scattering seven hits in the process.
"He is not pointing fingers," Smith said when asked about his starter. "He did his job tonight and just wasn't picked up by the offense."
One of Martinez's few mistakes came in the top of the third inning, when the first run of the game came in to score on a wild pitch uncorked by the righty. The mistake also put a pair of runners in scoring position with just one out, but Martinez was able to settle in and get two careful outs to escape the jam.
Both pitchers dominated throughout the middle of the game, throwing up zero after zero in the fourth through sixth innings. The maroon and gold were finally able to get to Utah's Jayson Rose in the home half of the seventh, using an RBI double from eight-hole hitter Andrew Shaps to even the score at 1-1.
With Martinez past the 100 pitch mark following the seventh, Smith decided to hand the ball off to reliever Eder Erives for the final two frames. The change of scenery was a welcome one for the Ute offense, which tallied a single run in both the eighth and ninth innings.
"It wasn't the ideal scenario of using Eder (in an) extended role tonight," Smith said. "But our thought was it was a close ballgame and we were (doing everything) to win it."
Arizona State tried to rally and extend the game in the bottom half of the final inning, getting a two out walk and base hit to bring the winning run to the plate.
Like so many men before him though, Coltin Gerhart was unable to come up with a big hit. The sophomore struck out on a filthy 1-2 pitch from closer Dylan Drachler, and just like that the Sun Devil losing streak grew to five.
"These are guys I have a lot of confidence in," said Smith. "For whatever reason, we're just not doing it."
Arizona State dropped to 13-8 (0-4 Pac-12) with the loss, while Utah improved to 7-12 (3-1) with the victory.
Smith's club will look to bounce back and even the series in game two tomorrow night. First pitch set for 6:30 p.m at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.