Some things just stay the same, constants you know aren’t going anywhere.
Death, taxes and. . . ASU baseball making dumb mistakes?
No, it hasn’t always been like that. But, this season has seemingly produced enough gaffes to fill ‘what not to do’ tutorial videos for years to come. When the errors started to come in bunches at the beginning of the year, the panic was subtle.
Head coach Tracy Smith argued the blunders were results of youth. A four-man all-freshman infield in going to make a few errors, right? Sure.
At some point, though, freshman can stop being categorized as such. College baseball is another level, but it’s still baseball — the rules of which are generally the same for all levels. When the Devils recorded three errors in their first game of the season against Miami (OH), young kids getting jitters may have been the culprit.
Sunday, though, that wasn’t the case. In its 48th game, Arizona State (20-28) recorded a quartet of errors, and plenty more additional mistakes in its 12-7 loss to Pacific (20-27) on Mother’s Day Sunday.
The loss ensures that Arizona State baseball will have back-to-back losing seasons for the first time ever.
“For that to be the product today — coming out on your home field — maybe you’re not playing for postseason play, but you’re certainly playing to take a step forward,” Smith said. “I thought that was a giant step backwards in all facets: Base running, defensively, particularly on the mound.”
The Sun Devils have made plenty of mistakes throughout this season — a throwing error or two has almost become commonplace. But Sunday was different in that sense. Their mistakes were on things that were unbelievably routine, on plays they have been making since little league.
The first instance that falls in the category came in the second inning. With runners on first and second with two outs, Pacific catcher James Free hit a slow chopper back to ASU starter Alec Marsh. The sophomore righty cleanly fielded the ball and jogged towards first, cutting down his distance to Spencer Torkelson at the bag.
With only a few feet to go before reaching the base, Marsh attempted to underhand the ball to Torkelson. Instead, he threw it a few feet over his head, allowing the Tigers to plate a run.
In the fourth inning, with ASU leading 7-6 following a four-run second for the Devils, Pacific’s Nate Verlin dropped a bunt down the third-base line, attempting to advance a pair of runners.
Third baseman Carter Aldrete, reliever Brady Corrigan and catcher Lyle Lin all crowded around the ball as it was trending left and foul. But before it could fully go foul, Aldrete picked up the ball, giving Verlin a hit and loading up the bases.
Two batters later, a running Hunter Jump dropped a painless fly ball in left-center to give Pacific, which plays in the West Coast Conference, an 8-7 lead.
Along with those egregious blunders, the Sun Devils also produced three wild pitches, one botched pick-off attempt and an Alika Williams throwing error from short, which allowed Pacific to score its 12th and final run.
“(That was) probably one of the most disappointing losses, or efforts, that I’ve seen us play since I’ve been in this uniforms,” Smith said after the game.
But following the game, Smith’s frustration was directed more at his scuffling pitching staff rather than his defense. The unit, which used five pitchers Sunday — none of whom made it a full three innings — managed to walk seven batters while throwing just 20 more total strikes (99) than balls (79).
Smith has echoed before his displeasure with his pitchers’ inconsistency to throw strikes. He says that walks “suck the life” out of games, robbing it of any sort of rhythm. In essence, innings drag on (the first two innings Sunday took almost an hour and a half) and negatively affect every part of the team.
“If we’re not good on the mound, we’re constantly behind in walking people, there’s pressure on the defense,” Smith said. “Guys fall asleep. We’re not going to be good, and good consistently, unless we’re consistent on the mound.”
Marsh was pulled after his error, just 1 2⁄3 innings into the game — forcing Smith to, very early, go to a bullpen that he doesn’t have much confidence in. The four-man pen allowed 10 hits and seven earned runs, but most of that damage could have been halted with the absence of a few defensive mistakes.
“There’s enough of the bad stuff to spread around here,” Smith said. “I think, if anything, these last games you’re looking at that ‘one day better,’ getting the game better and making sure that if it’s not at a level of play than you make a statement by a guy doesn’t play, whatever the case may be.
“The problem is, (if) you’re doing that today you might not have a team by the end of the day.”