It is well documented how Stanford Baseball has struggled this year to patch together complete games of hitting, pitching and defense. Such performances are elusive for any college baseball team, but putting together a better-than-solid effort in two of the three phases of the game typically nets a win. Therein lies the true problem for Stanford this year: the Cardinal have been too often mediocre-to-poor in two or all three phases of the game.
On Saturday at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman (Wash.), Stanford found power and production at the plate while pitching well on the mound. The Cardinal committed an excruciating four errors, all of which contributed to Washington State runs, in the evening opener of this three-game series. Stanford however belted a season-high three home runs and pitched just their second complete game of the season, as freshman Jeffrey Inman went the distance in the 6-4 victory.
"We hit the ball well. We got 12 hits and the three home runs, so obviously I'm pleased with that. And we got a great pitching performance," says head coach Mark Marquess. "We gave them a couple opportunities, and they took advantage of it. That's what good teams do. When you make three or four errors, that hurts. We were fortunate enough that we got the good pitching performance and three home runs."
Stanford's four errors all came in innings where Washington State scored. Officially, the Cougars crossed the plate three of four times with unearned runs, but it is easy to say that Inman would have had a shutout if the defense had done their job. The only earned run came in the bottom of the fifth inning, which should have been scoreless. Washington State had runners on first and third with one out, when Inman induced a groundball to freshman shortstop Adam Gaylord. The location and velocity of the ball set up perfectly a double play, which would have ended the inning without any runs. Gaylord's fielding error allowed the ball into the outfield and one Cougar run to plate.
A second error on the play came from sophomore Sean Ratliff in center field, who tried to throw out a baserunner at third base and hit him in the back. The ball dribbled away and allowed the runer to score. Two runs came across on the two errors, though only one was ruled unearned.
It was a difficult day for Gaylord, who committed two other errors in the game. Though just a freshman, Gaylord has been steady at shortstop throughout the season. He had just six errors in his first 34 starts, and never more than one in a single game, before committing three on Saturday. His other two gaffes came in the second and seventh innings, both of which saw Inman allow just one hit and no walks.
Stanford made up for the miscues in the field with production at the plate. Cardinal batters rapped out five hits in the first two frames, setting the tone in the 12-hit game. The visitors only plated one run early, however, as both of the first two innings ended with double-play groundouts that stranded runners in scoring position. Stanford's single run in the top of the second was scored by redshirt junior Adam Sorgi, who led off with a double and came in an a single down the left field line by junior Brian Juhl. Sorgi was 2-for-4 on the day and inched his batting average closer to the elusive .400 mark. The Stanford second baseman is hitting .394 and owns a nine-game hitting streak, with multiple-hit games in seven of his last nine contests.
The game stayed tied at 2-2 until the top of the fourth, when junior Michael Taylor led off and crushed the first pitch for a home run to right-center field. The homer was Taylor's eighth of the season, momentarily giving him the team lead. The 6'6" 260-pound outfielder has now left the yard in three of his last four games, and he has multiple-hit games in six straight outings. This solo shot gave Stanford a lead they would not relinquish.
Stanford opened up its lead in the next inning with three runs, all on one swing of the bat by Ratliff. His three-run shot high over the wall in right-center made the game 5-1, though it could have just as easily been a scoreless inning for the Cardinal. Leading off was sophomore Cord Phelps with a single, followed by a Gaylord groundout. Sophomore Joey August walked to put two aboard, but then freshman Toby Gerhart grounded to the WSU shortstop for a probable double play. The speedy frosh hustled to first to beat the throw, however, keeping the inning alive and allowing Ratliff to come to the plate. Gerhart's little play let the big play happen. The freshman also later singled to keep his eight-game hitting streak alive.
Ratliff added some insurance for the Cardinal two innings later with a solo home run in the seventh. Like his homer in the fifth, it also came with two outs. Saturday was Ratliff's second game this season with two home runs, giving him nine on the season and nudging him ahead of Taylor for the team lead. He finished the day 3-for-5 with four RBI and extends his hitting streak to nine games.
"I was actually seeing a lot of off-speed pitches early in the game," Ratliff explains. "Actually the first pitch I hit of the game for a single was a change-up. Then I figured I wasn't going to see one of those again. Coach [Dave] Nakama actually told me in my third at-bat that I should just sit off-speed for the first couple of pitches, just because he figured that's what their scouting report would be on me: off-speed stuff. He threw me a slider and then threw me the same change-up he threw in my first at-bat, and I just got into a little bit."
The three home runs from Stanford's two slugging outfielders were the most in a game this season for the Cardinal, who have been impotent at the plate. That is starting to turn around, however. Hitters have come alive the past two-plus weeks, and Stanford has now notched double-digit hits in nine straight games. Prior to this stretch, the Cardinal registered double-digit hits just 13 times in 34 games.
"We've been working on a lot of things as a team," Taylor describes. "We put in the extra work, and those things are starting to pay off at this point. Guys are starting to learn something about themselves and starting to play well. And it's really contagious. When the first couple guys get on, you start to get rolling. It's funny how the game works like that. If you have had three or four hits early, it's just easier to hit than when you have no hits late in the game."
A shuffle in the batting order may have also helpd spark Saturday's surge. Ratliff has hit at the top of the lineup 26 times this year and has batted first or second in 38 of Stanford's first 42 games. He moved into a power position in the order Saturday, hitting third ahead of Taylor hitting fourth.
"It's a lot different because hitting in the 'one' and even in the 'two' spot a little bit, you're a table setter for the guys," Ratliff explains. "You're just trying to get on base and drive in runs. I had some success there, but I've always been most comfortable my entire career sitting in the three-hole. My whole sophomore, junior and senior years of high school, I hit 'three.' It's just a place where I like to be, where I can get guys on in front of me and try to have opportunities to drive in runs."
"I think we have some extreme power on both sides of the plate," Taylor offers on the back-to-back threat he and Ratliff provide in the lineup. "His lefthanded bat and my righthanded bat makes it difficult for a pitcher to know what to do. He's going to get good pitches to hit. When I'm coming up, he's setting the table with guys on base or having already dropped it in. I kind of have a good idea what the pitcher is going to do next. It's a good tandem having both guys in the middle of the order driving in runs and it makes it easier for everyone else."
"That was really nice," says Inman of the support he received at the plate. "Especially when your team gives you a lead like that, you want to go that much harder. Try to get three outs and get back in the dugout to get it going again. That was a real boost for our team and I think set the tone for the game."
Saturday was not Inman's most overpowering outing. Though he scattered five hits across nine innings, all of which were singles, Inman struck out just three of the 37 batters he faced. The live-arm freshman had between six and eight strikeouts in each of his last three starts, though none of them lasted more than six innings. Inman's best performance this season came on March 2 against Cal, when he threw 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball and scattered three hits in a big 1-0 win. Though the Bakersfield (Calif.) righthander on Saturday went the distance for his first complete game in a Cardinal uniform, not all of his pitches were working for him.
"My stuff wasn't as good as it was versus Cal," Inman allows. "I wasn't able to throw my curveball or change-up for strikes interchangeably. I was mostly working off my fastball. I think most of my outs were on fastballs, just groundballs and guys getting the bat on the ball. I didn't have a lot of swing-through pitches like I had versus Cal, especially the change-up."
"After the second inning, I saw they were swinging at everything, so I was just trying to get my fastball over," he adds. "I was trying to be a little more efficient than I have been my last few times out. I've been trying to cut my walks down - no free baserunners."
"That's his first complete game, and it was good," praises Marquess of his freshman. "He kept his pitch count down. Late toward the end, he got up there a little bit. Maybe 115 [pitches] total, which isn't bad... He had better command of his stuff today. Normally his pitch count runs high, but today he was getting ahead and doing a good job."
With the win, Inman raises his record to 4-2 and lowers his ERA to 5.10. It was also the first victory for the 6'2" righty on the road.
More importantly, the victory was the first for the Cardinal in a Pac-10 series opener this season. It also nudged Stanford to a 4-12 record in the conference, which ties Washington State. Stanford returns to the field again today at 2pm looking to move ahead of the Cougars and escape the Pac-10 basement. The Cardinal have not lost in Pullman to the Cougars since May 8, 1970.
0 1 0 1 3 0 1 0 0 - 6 12 4
Washington State 0 1 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 - 4 5 1
Stanford POS AB
R H RBI BB SO
Joey August DH 4 0 1 0 1 1
Toby Gerhart LF 5 1 1 0 0 2
Sean Ratliff CF 5 2 3 4 0 2
Michael Taylor RF 5 1 2 1 0 0
Adam Sorgi 2B 4 1 2 0 0 0
Randy Molina 1B 3 0 0 0 0 0
Brent Milleville PH/1B 0 0 0 0 1 0
Brian Juhl C 4 0 1 1 0 1
Cord Phelps 3B 3 1 2 0 1 0
Adam Gaylord SS 3 0 0 0 0 0
E: Gaylord 3, Ratliff
HR: Ratliff 2, Taylor
R ER BB SO
Jeffrey Inman (W) 9.0 5 4 1 2 3
Washington State POS AB
R H RBI BB SO
Travis Coulter DH 5 2 2 0 0 1
Paul Gran 3B 4 0 1 1 0 0
Simi Reynolds LF 4 0 0 1 0 0
Jared Prince RF 3 0 0 0 0 0
Zach Borba CF 4 1 0 0 0 0
Jim Murphy 1B 2 0 0 0 1 1
Ryan Krauser PH 1 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Fanelli 1B 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jeff Miller 2B 4 0 1 1 0 0
Greg Lagreid C 3 0 0 0 0 1
Scott Suttmeier PH 1 0 1 0 0 0
Josh Ashenbrenner SS 2 1 0 0 1 0
Mike Gilbert PH 1 0 0 0 0 0
WP: Jeffrey Inman (4-2)
LP: Wayne Daman, Jr. (3-4)
Records: Stanford (19-24, 4-12 Pac-10), Washington State (21-21, 4-12 Pac-10)
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