Even before UCLA’s Kyle Cuellar belted a three-run blast to put the Bruins up four runs in the first inning, it was clear that ASU starting pitcher Tyler Thornton just didn’t have it Thursday night.
The right-hander labored through the game’s first five batters, working through deep counts and frequently missing badly with his off speed pitches.
By the time Cuellar dug into the box, Thornton was firmly on the ropes. Cuellar jumped all over a fastball up in the zone and deposited it beyond the right center field wall.
It was just the first of a series of blows in UCLA’s 21-9 (33-18, 16-12 Pac-12) rout of Arizona State (32-18, 16-12) at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
“They just beat us tonight, it didn’t seem like anything was going right tonight,” Arizona State coach Tracy Smith said. “We got the result we deserved, when you don’t pitch and you don’t play defense, that’s the result you’re going to get.”
When the dust settled, UCLA’s monster offensive night sang to the tune of 21 runs on 18 hits, highlighted by six doubles and two home runs. One of those doubles came in the third inning, when the game was still in reach at 4-0.
Bruins’ shortstop Matt McLain, brother of ASU second baseman Sean, laced his 10th double of the year into the left center field gap to lead off the frame. Kyle Karros and McLain came around to score on an uncharacteristic error by freshman third baseman Hunter Haas.
UCLA tacked on one more in the third, giving them a stranglehold 7-0 lead before the sun had even disappeared behind the grandstand.
“I don’t think it was a lack of focus necessarily,” Smith said of his team’s shotty defense. “You can turn on any big league game and see a player kick a baseball, that stuff happens. It happened in bunches tonight, but I can’t sit here and tell you that your guys weren’t focused on winning this game.”
Most nights, nine runs will net a team a win. Arizona State’s offense held up its side of the deal.
A walk from Seth Nager and two singles from Nick Cheema and Kai Murphy set up Allbry Major. He laced a single of his own, collecting two RBIs when Nager and Cheema crossed the plate.
Before the night was finished, Sean McLain got a chance to show off for his first-round bound big brother, as he blasted a three-run homer to left field.
Instead of going down by 17, ASU lost by 12. According to the skipper, no margin of loss ever really makes a difference.
“I liked the way we competed at the plate most of the night,” Smith said. “We scored nine runs, that’s something.”
Jack Moss and Nate Baez flexed their muscles in the fourth, as Moss launched a two-run shot to right before Baez homered to left.
“If we lost 10-9 would we be sitting here in the locker room all happy and giddy right now,” Smith asked rhetorically. “Well hell no we wouldn’t, because we still lost.”
Thornton of course wasn’t the only Sun Devil hurler to be victimized by the UCLA offense. Brock Peery, Dom Cacchione, Seth Tomczak, Blake Burzell and Joe Hauser rounded out a group that was made into a punching bag by the Bruin bats.
UCLA scored four times in the fourth, once in the fifth, three times in the sixth, five times in the seventh, and finally once more in the eighth before mercifully stranding two runners in the ninth.
“We’ve been in this position before,” Smith said. “We’re not gonna make too much out of this one, a loss is a loss like I said. We just have to re-focus and regroup and get ready for tomorrow’s first pitch at 6:05.”
If Smith sticks with what he’s been doing of late, veteran southpaw Justin Fall will get the start on the mound for ASU as they look to bounce back and even the series on Saturday evening.