Baseball takes two at UCLA

Brian Ragira

Now, that's a clutch performance in a pivotal series for Stanford baseball. The Cardinal, in the midst of their most brutal stretch of the competitive Pac-12 season, would have been all but eliminated from conference title contention had they not taken the set at UCLA this weekend. The Farm Boys responded by winning two of three against the league's most balanced team.

Mind you, that's the same Bruins squad that pummeled Arizona on the road to hand the Wildcats their only series loss of the season.

"My mind is still swirling," reliever Sahil Bloom said afterwards. He was one of the rubber-match heroes, throwing five scoreless innings to clinch a happy bus ride back up Interstate 5.

Stanford (28-11, 10-8 Pac-12) certainly understands the significance of their weekend wins; after all, the Cardinal were swept into submission the last time they faced a good club away from home (Arizona). This weekend, however, Mark Marquess' squad stormed into Los Angeles and dominated a fellow juggernaut. College baseball enthusiasts have recognized Stanford's talent all season long, but this is the first time the Cardinal have taken two of three from an elite opponent on the road.

They did it in convincing fashion, outscoring UCLA 18-11 and winning in large part because of their bullpen, which had been shaky. On Sunday afternoon, though, that was far from the case. Bloom earned the win with his blanking of the Bruins. He was certainly prepared for his action, as evidenced by his pregame tweet: "Huge game today. Stanford vs UCLA. Series on the line. Playoff like atmosphere, couldn't ask for anything better."

And with that, he relieved A.J. Vanegas to the tune of two-hit efficiency. There was no messing around beyond that point: Bloom told me that 50 of the 53 pitches that he threw were sinking fastballs, while the remaining three were changeups. Forty of those pitches were strikes in his no-walk performance.

Bloom benefited most from a six-run Stanford rally in the fifth inning during which all of the Cardinal's production came after the bases were empty with two outs. That attack turned a 2-0 deficit into a commanding lead. Such explosive outbursts have become commonplace for the club again, which has heated back up to the tune of six wins in its last seven games.

"The offense was great stepping up with two outs," Bloom said. "It's easy to lay down after two quick outs, but they kept fighting."

Tyler Gaffney gets a lot of the credit for his emergence from a horrible midseason slump, as does Brett Michael Doran, who continues to handle the small ball bat masterfully in his assignments as the team's leadoff hitter.

In case you're counting, Stephen Piscotty - the primary beneficiary when the Farm Boys pack the bases - has now driven in 49 runs, good for second in the Pac-12. Brian Ragira made the Bruins pay whenever they avoided giving Piscotty anything good to hit. Last year's Stanford RBI leader now has knocked in 38 on the 2012 season.

Those two all-conference performers are only the tip of the iceberg. The meat in the middle continues with red-hot Austin Wilson (6 HR, 33 RBI) and catcher Eric Smith, whose productivity has come as pleasant surprise after his offseason conversion to the catching position. His compact inside-out swing is leading Stanford with a .326 average. This weekend, it continued to set the table for another other big Cardinal surprise, freshman Alex Blandino. The Palo Alto native has driven in 24 runs in only 78 at-bats.

Also, don't forget about the recent emergence of Danny Diekroeger as a true power threat. He hit one all the way to Pacific Palisades this weekend, highlighting a productive weekend for the Diekroeger family. Older brother Kenny cashed in with a multi-hit effort himself.

All told, it culminated in a team-effort series victory behind Appel's win on Friday, Bloom's relief Sunday, and a couple of trademarked offensive onslaughts in between.

"[Sunday] was as close to a must-win game as they come in the regular season," Bloom said. "Huge Pac-12 implications in that series victory."

Oregon State beckons next as Stanford sits 2.5 games behind league-leading Arizona with 12 to play.

On Tuesday, Stanford heads to San Jose State for a 2:30 p.m. PST midweek tilt at Blethen Field. Catch Sam Fisher and me on the KZSU-2 call (kzsulive.stanford.edu).


About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.


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