If you picture the identity of a baseball team in the frame of a scratch-off lottery ticket, this is around the time where the Silver Nitric Oxide cover is beginning to give way to the letters or symbols underneath.
The Sun Devils are 13 games into the season, and while an identity is far from set in stone, many of their eight losses carry the same tune.
On Tuesday night in southern California, the Sun Devils dropped that eighth game of the season to the UC Irvine Anteaters by a final score of 4-3. Six times in those eight losses, including Tuesday, the Sun Devils have lost a lead due to repeated bullpen struggles or a sputtering offense unable to capitalize on opportunities.
Sometimes, it’s a pernicious combination of both.
Despite 11 hits and four walks against the Anteaters, the Sun Devils could not get the knockout punch head coach Willie Bloomquist has been pining for after almost every loss.
TRICKERATION!— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) March 9, 2022
The Devils put on the delayed double steal and @EthanLong2534 scores from third despite the out at first.
2-0, Devils, M1
Moving into the bottom of the fourth, the Sun Devils held a 3-1 advantage. Starting pitcher Tyler Meyer had struggled with his command until that point, but the scoreboard was not evocative of those issues.
In the second inning, Meyer walked three batters, including one UC Irvine batter with the bases loaded for the Anteaters first run of the game. He escaped with just the one run allowed.
He would not be so fortunate in the fourth inning. Again the bases were loaded, this time with nobody out. Meyer appeared on his way to another remarkable escape after striking out the next two batters, but Anteater Jacob Castro punched an opposite field double to score a pair to even the game.
There should not be many nights where the Sun Devils plate only three runs when their offensive cornerstones, Sean McLain and Ethan Long, combined to bat 7-for-9 at the plate. Tuesday night was that night. And the burden of responsibility falls on the players behind McLain and Long in the Sun Devil lineup.
After the Anteaters pushed across the go-ahead, and ultimately decisive, fourth run in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Sun Devils had their best shot at mounting a rally in the top of the seventh. McLain singled and Long and first baseman Connor Davis drew walks to load the bases.
Here was the opportunity, three on base, two in scoring position. The go-ahead runner just 180 feet from scoring. Freshman designated hitter Jacob Tobias was the plate, but was only able to muster a harmless fly out to retire the side. Yet again, the Sun Devils had battered and bruised their opponent, but were unable to land the last uppercut.
Sometimes the Sun Devils have played well enough offensively this season to secure victories, and the bullpen has lost the game. Tuesday night was not the case.
After Meyer was relieved after three earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched, Jared Glenn entered and got the Sun Devils out of the inning. Glenn pitched a scoreless fifth before allowing one run in the sixth.
Christian Bodlovich entered and retired the side on four pitches in the seventh and backed it up with 1-2-3 inning in the eighth to keep the Sun Devils close.
But on a night where the Sun Devils lacked the decisive hit, nobody could score McLain from second base in the top of the ninth to extend the game.
The second game of the series is later today. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m., MST.