At this point in the season, Tracy Smith and ASU fans have just been searching for progress. A good outing by the bullpen. An error-free game. No base running mistakes. Something that can be the catalyst for any kind of momentum.
None of that happened on Sunday. With the chance to get a series win against USC (16-12, 5-7 Pac-12), the Devils blundered their way to an 8-4 loss.
Errors and mistakes have consistently been met with arguments citing the Devils’ youth from Smith. But now 32 games in the season, the Devils four or five (depending on the night) freshman starters are not making dumb mistakes because they’re young, it’s because they’re not concentrated.
A night ago, ASU (14-18, 6-6) recorded three errors including a few other plays that could have been scored as one. Tonight, there was just one — but the mistakes came all over.
In the fifth inning — with ASU trailing just 2-1 — USC’s Brandon Perez popped a fly ball to left-center field. What should have been out No. 2 in the frame turned into error No. 1 for ASU. Sun Devil left fielder Carter Aldrete and center fielder Gage Canning had some miscommunication in the outfield and watched an easy pop-fly go to the ground after hitting Aldrete’s glove.
“They were both calling at the same time,” Smith said. “It’s just one of those things. I guess Gage could call it louder or Carter could have a better awareness of where he is.”
In the eighth inning, with the Sun Devils threatening down four, Trevor Hauver drew a walk that was going to set up runners on first and second for Gage Workman, who had just hit a home run in his last at-bat.
Instead, ASU had another mental mistake.
Hunter Bishop came off of second as if there was someone on first and the walk was simply going to push him over. As he sluggishly jogged over to third, USC catcher Blake Sabol threw him out by about five feet. Inning over.
Smith, who was coaching third on Sunday, had no idea what was going on.
“I saw the walk,” Smith said. “I put my head down walking and I hear everybody yelling. I think he thought there was a runner on first, I couldn’t tell you. A big part of the game is just being mentally into the game — knowing what the situation calls for.
“Certainly knowing how many outs there are and where base runners are.”
The constant gaffes from the Sun Devils seem to overshadow some other areas they need to improve in as well. After starter Sam Romero, who also started on Saturday, gave ASU 4 1⁄3 innings while only allowing two earned runs, its bullpen couldn’t answer the call.
Relievers Dellan Raish and Chaz Montoya allowed two and three runs, respectively — never truly giving the ASU offense much of a chance.
That offense was also hindered by a combined 0-9 performance at the plate from Canning and second baseman Alika Williams, who brought in an nine- and eight-game hitting streak into the game, respectively.
But for Smith, those poor outings aren’t the dictating factor on the scoreboard.
“It’s not that stuff that’s why we’re losing games,” Smith said. “Why we’re losing games is because of the stuff that you saw: Two guys calling the ball at the same time. A guy not knowing there’s another runner in front of him. And then pitchers not coming in with an aggressive attitude late in the game.”
Smith says he and his staff have coached up the Devils — “they know what to do,” he said. But the problem is, as he pointed out, they aren’t doing those things. They’re making mistakes in situations and on plays that they’ve seen 100 times in their lives.
“We’ve just go to figure it out,” Smith said. “We’re good baseball players. . . now start acting like it.”