On Saturday, Arizona State learned that playing only eight good innings of baseball isn’t enough in some games.
One day later, it found out that just one bad frame can lead to a loss.
A six-run fourth inning put the Sun Devils (6-5) in a big hole they could never quite dig out of in Sunday’s series finale, eventually falling 8-5 against visiting Loyola Marymount. The defeat sealed the deal on a second consecutive series loss for Arizona State.
“It is,” said head coach Tracy Smith when asked if the team was still a work in progress. “The reality is we have a lot of new guys who haven’t played yet, so we’re trying to figure out what those roles are going to be. As crazy as it sounds, I’m not too worried about it because I’m still learning more and more every time we play.”
There has been a bit of good in each of the team’s first 12 games, and that fact still held true on Sunday. The Sun Devils plated a run in both of the first two innings to jump out to a 2-0 lead as cleanup man Lyle Lin and second baseman Carter Aldrete provided early RBIs.
Neither team would score in the third, but a four-pitch walk issued by Maroon and Gold starter Jake Godfrey foreshadowed some of the trouble he would run into one inning later.
A leadoff full-count walk issued to designated hitter Trevin Esquerra got the top of the fourth started for the Lions (6-6), and Esquerra would come around to score soon thereafter on a two-out RBI single off the bat of Jimmy Hill. The run was the first of six that were scored in the frame, giving the home team a four-run deficit that it would never quite erase.
Five of those runs (all earned) were charged to Godfrey, who made his first start in Phoenix after transferring in from LSU. He ended up being pulled after 3.2 innings of work, giving up five hits and striking out three.
“I thought he wore down a little after he got around 50 pitches,” Smith said. “He was pretty good though for two or three innings. We’re still figuring out what his role will be for us, but it was good to get him out there and get an extended look.”
Try as they might, Arizona State was unable to pick up Godfrey at the plate.
The club did come close, however, striking for one run in the fifth and another pair in the seventh on back-to-back run-scoring hits from Lin and Tyler Williams. That made the score 6-5, but the Sun Devils left the tying run in scoring position when Aldrete watched three strikes (all of which were close calls) for the third and final out of the inning.
The controversial strikeout seemed to swing momentum back to Loyola Marymount, who subsequently added two insurance runs over the final two innings. The Maroon and Gold then went down in order in the home half of the ninth, putting the 8-5 defeat in the books for good.
Consecutive series losses are never a good thing, but for a young team who has been riddled with injuries and suspensions over the first three weeks of play, some of the problems are to be expected. And with the start of Pac-12 action still 11 days away, it’s definitely not time to hit the panic button.
"Hopefully we can get healthy here before we start conference (play),” said Smith. “It's in there, but we have to find the right combination. Our guys just need to locate their confidence."
According to Smith, that confidence level will be key for this club in the coming days and weeks.
“The greatest challenge you have at a place like Arizona State with a young team is making sure the guys are confident in what they're doing,” he said. “But as long as they stay together as a team, we'll be fine. I'm not worried about that.”