Tuesday afternoon’s game between Arizona State and Oklahoma State started normal enough for starter Zach Dixon and the Sun Devils.
The sophomore southpaw cruised through his first two innings of work, allowing a mere single and no runs. Then came the the top of the third, which is where the wheels began to fall off.
Dixon allowed one run in the third frame and two more in the fourth, staking the Cowboys (2-2) to an early 3-0 lead. The visitors from Stillwater took that advantage and never looked back, ultimately cruising to an 18-4 win that stunned previously undefeated Arizona State (3-1).
“You play 56 baseball games, you’re going to have one or two of those each season,” said head coach Tracy Smith after the defeat. “You can lose by whatever we lost by or you can lose by a run and it's still a loss. That's what really upsets us.”
Multiple factors led to the 14-run loss, but no group did worse on this day than the club’s bullpen.
After a two-batter appearance for Garvin Alston (an outing that did not result in any runs), the next four arms out of the Sun Devil bullpen each left with multiple runs charged to them. Josh Holliday’s club was able to blow the game open in the sixth inning, plating three runs on four base hits off reliever Grant Schneider.
The parade of singles became an all too familiar sight for the Maroon and Gold in this one, as the death by a thousand paper cuts mantra played true over and over again.
Oklahoma State finished the day with 22 hits, 19 of which came from the single variety.
“I was disappointed in the lack of maturity on the mound,” Smith said. “No one went out there with a purpose to shut it off. The result was terrible.”
Smith’s team finally got on the board in the seventh inning when pinch hitter Tyler Williams notched his first career home run (and the team’s first long ball of the season) off the batter’s eye in center field.
Carter Aldrete then got in on the action one inning later, cutting Arizona State’s deficit to 13-2 with a homer that barely cleared the fence in the left field corner.
The ninth inning provided some fireworks for both teams as seven total runs came across in the game’s final frame. That made the final tally 18-4, marking the second-worst loss of the Smith era in Tempe.
“At this time of the year, we're still trying different guys and different combinations to see what that lineup is going to be three weeks from now,” said Smith. “Guys need to seize the opportunity no matter what the score is.”
The defeat spoiled a perfect opening weekend for the Sun Devils, who now sit at 3-1 following their first homestand of the season. Things won't get any easier from here for the Maroon and Gold, as a three-game series against the top team in the nation awaits them in Fort Worth.
“We'll certainly have a formidable challenge this weekend,” Smith said when asked about the upcoming trip. “I don't know how much better it gets than playing the No. 1 team in the country.”
Indeed, TCU should be able to give Smith’s team everything it wants, and then some. The series will start on Friday, with first pitch set for 6:30 p.m. (MST) at Lupton Stadium.