PHOENIX–– Arizona State (6-4) couldn’t contain UC-Irvine’s (9-1) offense for the second-straight day, despite an impressive comeback effort, falling 10-9 on Saturday for its fourth loss in the last five games. It’s also the fourth-consecutive game ASU pitching allowed nine-or-more runs.
After spraying the ball all over the yard Friday night — for both hits and errors — the hits didn’t stop coming for the Anteaters. On Saturday, seemingly the entire lineup was hitting the ball hard in Khristian Curtis’ (4.2 innings, 7 hits, 5 earned-runs, 2 walks) third start of the year.
“Curtis talked me into letting him stay out there–– he got (UC Irvine infielder Dub Gleed) out,” head coach Willie Bloomquist said. “He deserved the right to stay out there, and then from there you could just see he ran out of gas. Brock is used to coming into those high-leverage situations,” Bloomquist said.
Curtis worked through the opening frame unscathed despite a couple of hard-hit balls and working around a runner in scoring position. It wasn’t as easy for him after that point.
The defense for ASU didn’t do Curtis any favors early-on. After a throwing error and a hit-by-pitch put two runners on-base with one out, Abraham Garcia-Pacheco (4-for-4, 4 RBI) of Irvine ripped a liner to left-field to break open the scoring with a 1-0 lead. The second inning began a three-frame streak where Irvine would scratch one run across the board.
By the middle of the fourth, the score was 3–0 and ASU had just one hit on the board. UCI’s opener, Riley Kelly (2 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs, 4 strikeouts), was retiring Sun Devils at-will early-on, striking out four batters in just two innings of work.
Although UCI was 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position to that point, a run was taken away from the Anteaters with runners on the corners and one out due to runner interference on a failed double-play attempt, ending the inning with one run scored instead of two.
That must’ve woken up the bats for the Sun Devils.
In the bottom half of the fourth, Ryan Campos (1-for-4, 1 run) and Ethan Long (2-for-5, 3 RBI) slapped singles up the middle followed by a sinking line drive by Jacob Tobias (1-for-4, 2 RBI). The center fielder laid out to make a play, but came up short and let the ball roll to the wall. Campos and Long came around to score, with Tobias pulling up at third with a two-RBI triple that gave the Devils some life.
Just as we all predicted at the start of his time here, ASU's ACTIVE career leader in triples is now @jtobias3244.— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) March 4, 2023
His third of his career and second of the season brings two across and the Devils are in business. pic.twitter.com/gXubpwAMY3
After a walk and a pitching change for UCI, Isaiah Jackson (0-for-2, walk, RBI) came up clutch with a sacrifice-fly that brought in Tobias to tie the game at 3-3. But, as previously mentioned–– the hits didn’t stop for the Anteaters.
Curtis gave up a one-out double in the fifth to Caden Kendle (3-for-5, 2 runs), followed by a fly-out and two walks to load the bases. At that point, Willie Bloomquist was entertaining the idea of bringing in right-hander Brock Peery (0.1 innings, 1 strikeout).
Once the change was made, Peery plunked his first batter to bring in a run. The next pitch was hammered to left field to bring around two more runs in response to the Sun Devils’ three-run inning minutes prior, making the score 6-3.
“If you live dangerously, eventually you’re going to get burned. That stuff can’t happen,” Bloomquist said.
The Sun Devils didn’t panic, though. Two straight walks and an RBI double by Wyatt Crenshaw (1-for-4, 2 RBI) to lead off the fifth put the pressure right back on UCI. ASU would scratch another run across on a groundout by Long to pull the game back to 6-5 after five innings.
Owen Stevenson (3 innings, 2 hits, 3 walks, 4 earned runs) came on to throw in the sixth for ASU. After two walks and a strikeout, Stevenson was in a 2-and-1 count on Anthony Martinez (0-for-1, 3 walks, run) when a pitch-clock violation was called, giving a hitter’s count to UCI.
The second violation of the day for ASU led to Bloomquist coming out to argue with third-base umpire, Darren Hyman, who made the call.
“I was not made aware that we’d already used our reset (by the umpires)–– we need some verbal (signal) that we use (it) so that the next time it is a ball, we know that,” Bloomquist said.
Things escalated quickly with home-plate umpire AJ Lostaglio stepping in as mediator, but Bloomquist said one-too-many words. Bloomquist was ejected from the game with his team down a run.
He didn’t necessarily take issue with the umpires, but with the new rules involving the pitch clock.
“Whoever made the rules on (the pitch clock) is destroying the game of baseball.
“This is an absolute joke–– they continue to screw with our game and destroy what has been a great one for a long time because they want to speed the game up,” Bloomquist said.
Stevenson got the next batter to ground into an inning-ending double play that fired up the home crowd. The San Francisco transfer followed up with a huge shut-down frame in the seventh while ASU’s offense went quiet.
After some, quite frankly, suspect life choices from the umps, @othe_pro gets a massive double play to keep it a one-run game.— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) March 4, 2023
Willie got his money's worth but we will have to finish this one without our fearless leader.
6-5, UCI, M6. pic.twitter.com/kwQkrfHcCe
But in the eighth, Stevenson walked three Irvine hitters, and with two outs in the inning, gave up a grand slam to Chase Call. The score was then 10-5.
“That stuff can’t happen. We’ve got to be better than that,” Bloomquist said.
Call’s home run took the air out of the metaphorical balloon for ASU, who found itself down five runs in the blink of an eye. UCI’s pitching locked in from there. From the sixth inning on, the Anteaters retired eight ASU hitters in a row leading into the bottom of the ninth.
Long wasn’t ready to lay down his sword, though. After he watched the grand slam go over the right field fence, all he could think was “alright, time to lock in. We’ve got to grind now.”
The final frame was not so easily won as ASU, indeed, battled the rest of the way.
A last-ditched rally effort by the Sun Devils that started with a three-peat of walks led to two runs coming across, and brought the winning run to the plate in Ryan Campos with the bases loaded and one out, down 10-7.
“Everybody was having quality at bats, just passing it along to the next guy,” Long said.
Campos couldn’t cash in, striking out on an outside fastball. It was left to Long who in-turn drilled a two-out, two-RBI knock through the right side to bring the Devils to within one. Alas, Jacob Tobias grounded out to end the comeback, and the game.
The Sun Devils, particularly the pitching staff, will look to build on that ninth inning and salvage the final game of the series against UC-Irvine on Sunday after back-to-back home losses.
“(We) still trust every (pitcher) that runs out there, and I know they’ll fill up the zone when it matters. I still believe in them,” Long said.
“Bloomy’s told us from the jump–– the tougher teams win on Sunday,” he added.