USC’s Ben Ramirez popped up into foul territory along the third base line in the top of the fifth inning Saturday night. The nightmarish start that had already positioned ASU into a 6-run deficit looked like it was getting some relief in the Devils’ eventual 10-1 loss.
But that play seemed to follow the same script that the previous four innings, and perhaps the Sun Devils (14-17, 6-5 Pac-12) season, had: A chance at a swing in momentum halted by a miscue from one of the Devils’ youngsters.
Ramirez’s foul ball was looked to be drifting pretty close to the camera well at the end of USC’s (15-12, 4-7) dugout along the third base line. Multiple Trojans rushed out of the way as Workman ran over to get under the ball. From where he was positioned, it seemed almost certain that the ball was heading down easily in his reach just overtop of the dugout railing.
It didn’t — the ball, instead, landed behind Workman.
The inning should have been over. The Sun Devils should have grabbed their bats in the bottom of the fifth down six. Instead, they gave USC life again. Two pitches later, Ramirez clobbered a pitch from ASU reliever Ryan Hingst over the right field fence to put the Trojans up 9-0.
“Consistency will not come until we do a better job of just catching and throwing the baseball,” ASU head coach Tracy “Skip” Smith said. “Our pitchers did a much better job tonight but we didn’t make some plays behind them.”
The mishap from Workman didn’t even count as one of the Devils three errors on the night, either. Drew Swift had a throwing error in fourth, allowing what would turn into the fourth run for USC to get on base. And later in that inning, USC’s Chase Bushor dropped down what was supposed to be a squeeze bunt with one out and Blake Sabol standing on third.
The ball got to the then-pitcher Eli Lingos quick and he had Sabol in a routine rundown as Bushor reached first. He threw the ball high for Workman and the third baseman couldn’t come down with it. Although the play wasn’t scored as an error, it left runners on the corners with one out instead of giving Lingos room to operate with two outs and a runner on first.
“If we execute a rundown play that, not only do we practice all the time during the week, but (they) used to play that game called pickle (when they were younger),” Smith said. “We just have to start doing those types of things and understand how important those things are.”
Lingos brought a 21-inning scoreless streak into Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Saturday and, despite the fact that he didn’t have his best stuff, Smith knows he didn’t have much help behind him.
“We’ve asked a lot of him lately, maybe he was a little tired — we bumped him up a day, all that stuff,” Smith said. “And we didn’t help him out defensively, and thats the other part of it — I’ll say that right now.”
Little things seem to turn into larger problems for ASU. Its opponents will stack runs in just a few innings. One bad inning turns into four as errors seem to string together.
Smith was asked after the game if that was just a “baseball thing” or if it was “a young team thing.”
“It’s a concentration thing,” Smith said. “Here’s the fine line between using youth as an excuse — my rational brain says that these guys are going to take some time.”
Most of the errors the Devils commit are routine. ASU’s young defensive lineup may be new to college baseball, but they’re not new to baseball.
Smith has preached patience with his young squad for the entire season but, at a point, the constant flurry or errors aren’t because the guys making them are young, it’s because, as Smith said, they’re not concentrated.
The Sun Devils will host the rubber match of their series against USC tomorrow at 12:30 MST, and as for who will be on the hill for ASU: “I wish I had an answer for you on that,” Smith said.”