Well, one can now say the 2014 version of Stanford baseball is all grown up.
Exhibit A: Indiana was 39-0 when leading after seven innings this season entering Sunday's game against the Cardinal. The Hoosiers are now 39-1 in such situations. Credit Stanford's thrilling 10-7 comeback victory to stave off elimination in Bloomington for the lone blemish. A.J. Vanegas registered 5.1 gutsy innings to keep the Cardinal close on the back end of a doubleheader, Wayne Taylor blasted the day's decisive pinch-hit home run, and the Farm Boys live to fight another day after an afternoon that saw not one, but two victories in elimination games.
Just about six weeks ago, few could have foreseen a Stanford postseason berth, let alone a dramatic fight to the death against one of the nation's national seeds. But that's what we have on our hands now at the tail end of a season that began with a much different primary storyline.
The narrative surrounding Stanford early on, seemingly ages ago now that Taylor has delivered his transformative blast, was one centered on youth: Mark Appel was gone, as were several of the offensive bruisers that struck fear into opposing pitchers over the previous three seasons. Freshmen started the vast majority of the Cardinal's games on the mound, and they populated key spots in the lineup, too.
Two months in, Stanford was floundering at 11-16, and that didn't come as much of a surprise given that aforementioned youth, which struggled to stay afloat against one of the nation's toughest schedules. A loss at Washington on April 12 sealed Stanford's third losing conference series in four tries.
But then came a 6-3 getaway day win over the Huskies, and in salvaging that Seattle series, the Cardinal may have saved their entire season. That April 13 triumph began a string of success that has extended to today: Stanford has won 22 of its past 30 games.
But although the hot streak managed to push Stanford back into postseason play, it came in relative silence. There was no wow factor; no openly visible reason to believe that this team carried enough punch to make a lasting mark on the history of such a storied program.
Ironically, it wasn't Stanford's youth that sparked the dramatic transformation. The old guard came through in the clutch to give the team the jolt it desperately needed to survive and turn the tables.
Trailing host Indiana 6-4 in the Sunday's eighth inning, only four outs stood between Stanford and elimination. The home crowd in the Hoosier State smelled blood and a Super Regional. Junior Dominic Jose, fighting through a disappointing .196 season at the plate, silenced them temporarily with a single to right.
Two on, two out.
Mark Marquess then made the season's critical decision. Instead of relying on the freshman Jack Klein in the pivotal situation, he went to his bench for the junior Taylor. The veteran was ready to reward his coach's faith in him.
Taylor's pinch-hit rocket off Jake Kelzer cleared the left-center field fence. It permanently muzzled Indiana's raucous gathering. It sent the small Cardinal contingent into delirium. Stanford suddenly led 7-6.
Most significantly, the Farm Boys had finally cashed in on that moment. Their hot stretch had been quietly bubbling for a month and a half, and it had reached its boiling point. There comes a time when every successful postseason teams must make a statement in the clutch. With Taylor's swing, the 2014 Cardinal sent that emphatic message, the one that finally put the necessary exclamation point on their winning ways.
Stanford poured on three more insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning before holding off the Hoosiers 10-7.
So the Cardinal live to fight another day. They'll need to beat Indiana again at 2:30 Pacific Time Monday to secure the Bloomington Regional and advance in the NCAA Tournament. Now, though, the Hoosiers are no longer dealing with the young Stanford team that was simply playing well entering the postseason. Indiana now has its hands full with a supercharged Stanford club, one that knows it can deliver the critical blow.
And that's significant. Because in the pressure cooker of postseason play, a veteran's dramatic home run can make all the difference.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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