It sure as heck wasn’t pretty, but Stanford baseball managed to pull out a tough win against the University of San Francisco on Tuesday night at Sunken Diamond with a late eighth-inning rally to claim the midweek non-conference affair by a 7-6 score and improve to 21-18 on the season.
The win was much tougher than any victory against a sub-.500 non-conference opponent like USF should be, and it was, again, due to a late meltdown from the bullpen, which has now imploded away two leads in the last four games.
Chris Viall didn’t have his best stuff this time, as the fireballer entered the game in the eighth nursing a 6-1 lead but was charged for four runs without getting an out after allowing his first four hitters to reach and dealing a wild pitch and a passed ball to boot. He was pulled after giving up a two-run double to get USF within two runs, and Colton Hock followed that up with an equally unimpressive outing, giving up back-to-back singles to close the gap to 6-5 before a wild pitch brought the tying run home.
The tables have now turned from the start of the season, when the hitting was among the worst in the league and the pitching – especially the bullpen – was the rock of the team. Now, the offense has finally started to hit its stride (the team hit .429 with runners on and .571 with RISP today) but the pitching has been shaky on the back end.
Luckily for the Cardinal, the offense was on once again today, pounding out 11 hits and taking productive at-bats with men on base to key a couple of big innings and hold on despite the bullpen’s rocky outing.
Stanford put up a four-spot in the third inning in support of Andrew Summerville, stringing together four hits to start the frame capped off by an RBI single from Jack Klein and a two-run triple from Matt Winaker, hitting in the leadoff spot in Mark Marquess’ new-look lineup. Tommy Edman tacked on a sac fly for his 19th RBI of the year to make it 4-0 Cardinal early.
Freshman Duke Kinamon swung a red-hot bat in the game, clubbing a long ball over the left-field fence in the seventh to add on to the Stanford lead before Tommy Edman made it 6-1 to give Stanford a safe lead – or so it seemed at the time.
After Viall and Hock melted away the lead, Stanford got Nico Hoerner on to lead off the eighth and used some good, old-fashioned small ball to finish his trip around the basepaths on a bunt and two ground balls. The rally was capped off by a sweet hustle play from Kinamon, who barely beat out a weak grounder that was handled rather lackadaisically by first baseman Ross Puskarich to bring the go-ahead run home and give Stanford the decisive 7-6 lead.
Kinamon’s 3-for-4 night with the dinger, two runs scored and two RBIs paced the team, while Winaker enjoyed a 2-for-4 night with two RBIs from the leadoff spot.
Stanford has now won two of its last nine games and is, shockingly, still in the thick of the confusing and crowded Pac-12 race, just 3.5 games behind conference leader Utah despite sitting in 10th place. It’s one of those seasons.
With four conference series left to play – including one against the Utes – if the Cardinal can get hot at the right time, there’s no reason this team can’t still make a run for the Pac-12 title and a shot at the postseason. Only time will tell, and that will start with a three-game set against surprisingly disappointing Cal this weekend from Thursday to Saturday at Sunken Diamond.