After a forgettable start to their series at Stanford (16-10, 8-6 Pac-12) on Friday, the Sun Devils (14-19, 5-7) put up much more of a fight on Sunday.
But ASU faltered late thanks to some defensive miscues and a disastrous eighth inning from the Sun Devils’ bullpen, losing to the Cardinal 10-6 for their second defeat in as many days.
The knockout blow came in the bottom of the seventh after the Sun Devils had scored two in top of the inning to tie the game at five runs apiece. Stanford loaded the bases off of redshirt junior reliever Will Levine and redshirt sophomore reliever Christian Bodlovich, then Cardinal right fielder Braden Montgomery launched a no-doubt grand slam over the right-field fence, giving his team a 9-5 lead.
It’s an extremely tough setback for both Levine and Bodlovich, who have emerged as two of Bloomquist’s most reliable relievers after ASU’s bullpen as a whole struggled mightily over the first month of the season.
Bodlovich in particular had his worst outing of the season, failing to record an out as the three batters he faced all hit the ball hard for an infield single, the aforementioned grand slam, and a double that forced Bloomquist to go back to the mound and call on sophomore closer Brock Peery to stop the bleeding.
Saturday’s game began on a much more promising note for the Sun Devils. ASU got on the board early when the game’s third batter, sophomore designated hitter Ethan Long, crushed his fifth home run of the season in the top of the first. The Sun Devils then added another in the second when sophomore outfielder Nate Baez scored on a two-out RBI single from redshirt sophomore outfielder Kai Murphy.
Big response from the Devils right out of the gates in this one.@EthanLong2534 with a massive blast. 1-0, Devils, M1. pic.twitter.com/2RL3LpBwHA— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) April 9, 2022
Adam Tulloch, meanwhile, recorded his best start in nearly a month. The lefthanded redshirt junior transfer entered the game with an ERA of over seven on the season after a horrid past four starts, but cruised through the first two innings, retiring the first seven batters he faced. However, Stanford made him pay for a one-out walk to outfielder Eddie Park in the third, as outfielder and leadoff hitter Brock Jones smashed a two-out RBI triple that Murphy nearly caught at the right-field fence to bring home the first Cardinal run of the game.
Stanford then tied the game at two when designated hitter Vincent Martinez led off the bottom of the fifth with a home run. The Cardinal then loaded the bases against Tulloch and took their first lead of the afternoon when first baseman Carter Graham hit a hard grounder that freshman Cam Magee could not handle cleanly at third base. Bloomquist then pulled Tulloch and inserted Levine into the game, and Levine escaped the jam when Stanford’s Brett Barrera’s ground ball up the middle was gloved by diving redshirt sophomore shortstop Sean McClain to start an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Absolutely MASSIVE PLAY for @Sean_McLain_— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) April 9, 2022
Bases loaded, one out and the shortstop makes an incredible diving play up the middle, flips it to second from his stomach and ASU turns two.
Stanford does score two in the frame but it could have been worse. 3-2, Stanford. pic.twitter.com/9YtlSjXnUH
ASU tied the game right back up in the top of the sixth when Murphy legged out a slow grounder to shortstop for his second RBI single of the day. But Stanford got some more help from the Sun Devils’ defense in the bottom of the inning when Baez misplayed what should have been a routine single to left field for Stanford catcher Kody Huff. The error allowed Montgomery to score from first and Huff to wind up on third, and Huff scored on a sacrifice fly from Martinez for a 5-3 Cardinal lead.
Again, the Sun Devils came right back, this time in the top of the eighth. With one out and runners on the corners, redshirt senior first baseman Conor Davis executed a hit-and-run perfectly, lining an RBI single to score redshirt sophomore outfielder Joe Lampe and put McClain on third. Baez, the next batter, lined a sacrifice fly to deep right field, bringing home McClain as the game’s tying run.
But that would be the last time ASU would mount a serious rally, as Montgomery’s slam in the bottom of the eighth proved too much to overcome.
It’s a crushing blow to the Sun Devils’ ability to climb out of the middle tier in the Pac-12 standings. Stanford, the team directly ahead of sixth-place ASU in those standings, now holds the tiebreaker if the two teams finish the regular season with the same conference win percentage. After the Sun Devils came into the weekend playing their best baseball of their entire season, they now enter Sunday’s game just hoping to avoid a sweep in Palo Alto.