The Arizona State offense (30-16, 14-10 Pac-12) has been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks, but in a game the Sun Devils needed all the offensive horsepower they could find, the bats sputtered in an 11-4 loss to Oregon State (32-17, 14-10).
Kai Murphy started his second consecutive Sunday contest, facing his former team as he stepped on the bump.
His strong performance last weekend against Cal was erased quickly by an aggressive approach from the Beaver bats.
The dam broke open in the top of the second as Oregon States’s hottest hitter, Troy Claunch, launched a home run to straightaway center field to open the scoring.
“That was definitely the difference, them scoring early. It takes the pressure off of them in the batter’s box and also on the mound a little bit,” Sun Devil coach Tracy Smith said. “That’s baseball. They’re a good team, one of the top teams in the country, and they came out and put it on us early.”
Murphy would get the next two batters out, but Kyle Froemke doubled in Greg Fuchs and Matthew Gretler smashed the second home run of the inning to push the lead to 4-0.
The damage then became self-inflicted following an Andy Armstrong double. Sun Devil right fielder Hunter Jump lost a routine fly ball in the sun and saw it bounce off his wrist. Armstrong came in to score to give the Beavers a commanding five-run lead.
A deficit early in the game has not been unfamiliar to ASU over the last week week, as on Tuesday against Nevada and on Friday night in this series, they were able to battle back with timely hitting and clutch power.
However, a 1-2-3 bottom of the third inning provided the answer that this tenacious young team did not have another comeback in the cards.
With the score 11-3 after four innings, the Sun Devils were just trying to keep the game respectable. Give a large chunk of the credit to the bullpen for doing just that.
Murphy was removed early in the top of the third inning, and the bullpen gate would swing open for six Sun Devil relievers to follow.
Jared Glenn and Joe Hauser combined to allow five hits, four earned runs, one walk and three strikeouts in their 1.1 innings of combined work.
Hauser exited in the top of the fourth in favor of Christian Bodlovich, who struck out Gretler to end the inning, and then went on to pitch a scoreless top of the fifth.
The next three relievers - Blake Burzell, Graham Osman, and Brady Corrigan, would be the link on the bump from the sixth inning until the end of the game.
The three arms combined to allow just one hit, zero earned runs, six walks and two strikeouts, reaffirming this bullpen as one of the best in recent Sun Devil memory.
“For the most part all year they have been doing a really good job,” Smith said. “The back end did pretty much what the back end has been doing all year, which is being difficult to score on and giving us a chance to win. We just weren’t within striking distance to make it relevant today, that’s the disappointing piece.”
Arizona State got one more run across in the bottom of the fifth on a pinch-hit, solo home run from Sam Ferri to make the score 11-4, but that is where the scoring stopped on Sunday.
The Beaver bullpen came in and shut down ASU for the remainder of the game, allowing just two hits.
In the bottom of the ninth, with the outcome of the game long-since decided, Ethan Long entered the batter’s box searching yet another home run. It was not to be.
Instead, a fastball climbed the ladder and hit Long on the bill of his helmet, knocking him to the ground and popping the air out of the stadium with audible gasps. But Long, ever the competitor, was up in a few moments as he was assisted down to first base.
He would stay in the game, and neither his teammates or his coach sounded too concerned postgame about his condition heading into this coming weekend’s series against USC.
“He’s fine, it grazed his helmet, so he is fine,” Smith said.
While the Sunday loss is disappointing, it will not overshadow the impressive work done by the Sun Devils this weekend to take the series against a conference opponent that entered these three games just in front of them in the standings.
Now with the tiebreaker, the Devils sit at fourth in the Pac-12 standings as they travel to Southern California to play the Trojans next weekend.