All good things must come to an end, and the Stanford bullpen’s otherworldly stretch of dominance finally came to earth with a resounding thud on Monday night as Stanford baseball (12-7, 2-1 Pac-12) dropped its first midweek game of the season and took its first loss to San Jose State (8-15, 3-8 Mountain West) since 2014 in a 10-9 walk-off loss.
Although Stanford entered the ninth inning in bad shape, down 6-5 and without a hit out of the infield since the sixth, the Cardinal pieced together a 4-run rally in the top of the frame with RBI singles from Matt Winaker and Jack Klein and a bases-loaded walk from the red-hot Nico Hoerner to seemingly pull ahead for good with the lockdown Chris Viall jogging in from the bullpen.
But Viall, who had shut down ninth innings without question through non-conference play, had his worst outing of the season while struggling mightily with his control, throwing only 16 of his 35 pitches for strikes.
After he entered in the ninth tasked with protecting the late 9-6 Stanford lead, he allowed the first four Spartans to reach base in the ninth (including 3 walks – extremely uncharacteristic of Viall and his 14/2 K/BB ratio entering the game) before yielding two RBI singles, including the ultimate game-winner to shortstop Michael Breen, to hand the game to San Jose State.
Viall’s struggles and an ineffective outing from freshman Kris Bubic (3 earned runs in 1-plus innings) spoiled another great outing from Andrew Summerville, who pitched 3 shutout innings in relief, and a season-best 16 hits from the offense.
The hit barrage was led by Hoerner (the team’s leading hitter at .306) and Quinn Brodey, who has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games and tallied his second consecutive 3-hit outing. Tommy Edman, freshman Duke Kinamon and sophomore Matt Winaker also had multi-hit games. The situational hitting was also there: Although Stanford left 12 hitters on base in the game, the Cardinal hit .300 (6-for-20) with runners in scoring position – though they struggled with 2 outs, when they drove in only 2 of their 9 runs.
Stanford got an unearned run and an RBI hit from Kinamon, his second RBI of the year, in the first inning to jump out to a quick 2-0 lead before San Jose State loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the frame and plated two of its own to knot the game.
The red-hot Brodey didn’t let the stalemate last long, singling in Matt Decker in the top of the second before rocketing a 2-run double into right-center in the sixth to spot Stanford a 5-2 lead late in the game before it turned the game over to its strength – the late relief.
But for the first time this season, the relievers failed to come through.
First, it was Bubic, who allowed three straight base hits to lead off the seventh to plate a run and leave runners on the corners before yielding to Hock, who plated another on a wild pitch and saw two runs come across as the result of an error by Edman at shortstop.
Viall then spoiled the Cardinal rally in the ninth by allowing 4 runs to score on his watch (his first 4 earned runs allowed of the season) to finally break his 12.0-inning scoreless streak to start the season and give San Jose State the come-from-behind victory.
Stanford next takes on USC at home in a three-game set from Friday to Sunday. My best guess for the starting rotation would probably be Tristan Beck, Brett Hanewich and Chris Castellanos in some order once again (though don’t rule out Summerville in the place of either of the latter two).
· Edman (SS) and Mikey Diekroeger (3B) committed the Cardinal’s two errors against SJSU. Edman has gotten off to a really rough start at shortstop this season: His error Monday was his fifth of the season after committing just six all of last year. His fielding percentage is at an ugly .941.
· Outside of Edman (5 errors) and Diekroeger (3), though, the Cardinal have been terrific: Everybody else has combined for just 1 error in the field. That’s remarkable. Stanford’s .988 fielding percentage going into the game was the best in the nation. Stanford’s 9 team errors are still the best in the nation.
· The 10 runs given up to San Jose State raised Stanford’s team ERA from 2.14 (third in the nation) to 2.40 (13th). The Cardinal still lead the Pac-12 by a wide margin.
· Stanford has struggled mightily with its pitching in its last two midweek games, with 9 runs allowed against UC Davis and 10 against San Jose State. Playing on Monday for both of those games must really have thrown the team’s rhythm off, potentially (Stanford normally plays its midweeks on Tuesdays).
· John Hochstatter went just 2.0 innings today to follow a 2.1-inning outing against Davis, exiting after just 38 pitches. It’s clear Stanford is still easing him back into regular use, though with the dominance of Beck, Castellanos, Summerville and Hanewich, I’m not sure that rotation slot might still be up for grabs in a few weeks if the youngsters keep impressing.
· No word on Cal Quantrill’s injury timetable yet. I’ll keep you posted.