For five innings in Saturday’s ballgame against USC, it looked like more of the same from Stanford’s struggling offense: The Cardinal couldn’t string together hits, couldn’t move runners up and the only runs that they got had more to do with the USC defense than the Stanford offense.
But as good teams need to do, Stanford eventually found a way to take advantage of USC’s mistakes. The Cardinal (13-8, 3-2 Pac-12) put up a five-spot in the sixth and took the lead on a go-ahead solo home run by Mikey Diekroeger in the seventh to come all the way back from a 6-run deficit and prevail in an ugly 11-8 affair on a hot Saturday afternoon at Sunken Diamond.
"We just did a really good job of staying in the game, even when we got down 8-2,” said shortstop Tommy Edman. “Kris Bubic and Colton Hock did a really good job of putting up five scoreless innings and giving our offense a chance to come back.
“That's what's been huge about our team this year. We've gotten down a couple of times and never really given up and given in and that's been huge for us throughout the year."
The rally in the sixth wasn’t all too pretty, either. Stanford loaded the bases on a single, walk and hit batter and didn’t exactly do too much in terms of hitting to get its runs across: The first three runs of the inning came on two wild pitches and a bases-loaded walk.
And with runners on second and third and one out, the Cardinal finally got the big hit in a timely situation that they had lacked so many times this season when Edman poked a soft single into left to plate both runs and knot the game at 8-8.
“We did a good job of that today,” he said. “Yesterday we struggled with that a little bit, obviously, not scoring any runs, but today, we were finally able to get that big hit and have a more simple approach to the plate."
Until the team can finally figure out its hitting struggles for good (USC still outhit Stanford, 12-10), those are the kinds of runs that the Cardinal need to get to prevail over good teams: Capitalizing on mistakes by USC pitchers and fielders (the Trojans committed 2 errors), especially since USC’s relievers were pressed into early action and struggled to find the zone.
And to their credit, Stanford’s hitters also did a great job of putting the ball in play: The Cardinal only struck out twice (after striking out 10 times Friday) and walked five times.
"A lot of our rallies this year have been started by walks and good at-bats, not necessarily the home run or the triple or the double – guys like Winaker and Tommy getting on base any way they can; it's not all about getting hits,” Diekroeger said. “When guys have the plate discipline and the approach they do and we get on base, that's when we are effective."
Even though Stanford struggled at the plate in the early goings, all nine Cardinal hitters reached base at least once, led by Edman’s 2-for-5 performance and a breakout effort from Diekroeger, who snapped out of his slump by reaching base five times, including two doubles and the go-ahead solo home run in the seventh.
"I was not [swinging for the fences],” Diekroeger said. “I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit. He was working in the zone and I just tried to put a good swing on it."
Stanford starter Chris Castellanos struggled to command his fastball low in the zone and was hit hard as a result (3 IP, 6 ER, 8 H). Although that put Stanford in an early hole (USC scored 5 in the second and 3 in the fourth), the back end of the bullpen bailed him out. While Tyler Thorne gave up 2 earned runs of his own, Kris Bubic and Colton Hock combined for 5.0 shutout innings and only gave up one total hit to quell any ideas of a USC comeback.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal tacked on two more in the eighth on an error by USC shortstop Lars Nootbaar (fantastic name, by the way) followed by a RBI single from Quinn Brodey, who has now hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games. The Cardinal looked a lot more confident and decisive at the plate in the last few innings – hopefully, that’s a sign of a turnaround and of better things to come from the bats.
Neither Stanford nor USC has formally announced a starter yet for tomorrow’s 4 p.m. rubber game at Sunken Diamond, though I’d expect lefty Andrew Summerville for the Cardinal in light of Brett Hanewich’s control issues having resurfaced as of late.