Cardinal Open Season In Style

The Stanford baseball team made it look easy this weekend against the Fresno State Bulldogs. The 6th ranked Cardinal posted victories of 12-1, 7-0, and 8-4 in recording a season-opening sweep. Here is a complete recap of the series that includes Chris Minaker's perfect season-opener, Jed Lowrie's power surge, and a standout performance by the pitching staff.

Overall, you couldn't have asked for a much better weekend from the Stanford baseball team.  Interestingly though, the first inning of game one on Saturday afternoon had the look of disaster.  Ace starter Mark Romanczuk got the starting call on Saturday (Friday's game was rained out) and was unable to retire any of the first four batters he faced.  A leadoff single and then three consecutive walks plated a run to give Fresno State the early lead.  The final walk, which brought home a run, was on four pitches and certainly raised red flags in the Cardinal dugout.

With no outs in the first inning, in fact, head coach Mark Marquess summoned freshman Erik Davis down to the bullpen to start warming up.  Literally just ten minutes into the year, Stanford's ace pitcher was on the ropes in danger of a huge inning against him and an incredibly early hook.  But showing tremendous maturity, Romanczuk battled back and he did so in style.  The southpaw came back to strike out David Gomez swinging on just three pitches and then got Chase Moore looking on only four pitches for a quick two outs.  Freshman third baseman Beau Mills was up next and Romanczuk got out in front of him 1-and-2 before Mills grounded a ball to the right side that appeared ticketed for the outfield.  But John Mayberry, Jr., showing off some nice range, made a diving stop moving to his right and flipped to the covering Romanczuk at first to end the inning and keep the score at 1-0.

Romanczuk's next (and final) four innings of the day were then a thing of beauty.  The Delaware native was in complete control retiring 11 of the 13 batters he faced with three strike outs mixed in.  Romanczuk was especially effective with his breaking ball, using it to get ahead of hitters and then throwing the hook to finish off a couple of Bulldogs.  The only two hits Romanczuk allowed in his five innings were the leadoff single in the first and a leadoff single in the fifth.  He was pulled after throwing just 83 pitches as all Cardinal starters this weekend were not allowed to go very deep into any of their games.

Offensively, the Cardinal got the bats going on Saturday with two runs in the bottom of the third inning.  Mayberry, Jr. came through with the first of many clutch hits on the weekend when he plated a pair of runs with a two-out single.  Stanford then blew the game open in the bottom of the fourth when the pushed across seven scores to take a 9-1 advantage.

Third baseman Adam Sorgi supplied the first big hit of the inning when he belted a double to deep left field scoring two.  After a walk, Chris Minaker delivered an RBI single for the third run of the inning.  Consecutive walks to Jed Lowrie and Mayberry, Jr. accounted for another run.  Then it was John Hester's turn as the slugging catcher brought home a run with a single.  Jim Rapoport capped the inning off with a two-run single of his own as 12 men came to the plate for Stanford in that bottom of the fourth.

Stanford wouldn't stop there, however, as the All-American Lowrie crushed a two-run home run well over the fence in right field in the fifth.  It was certainly one of the farthest balls Lowrie has ever hit as it cleared the fence at Sunken Diamond by quite a large margin likely landing just in front of the swimming pool complex.  Lowrie hit a Pac-10-best 17 home runs last season and was picking up right where he left off. 

The Cardinal's final tally of Saturday's 12-1 victory came in the bottom of the seventh when three singles from Minaker, Mayberry, and Hester produced a run.

Meanwhile, after Romanczuk's solid five innings, sophomore Matt Leva took over on the mound.  Leva missed the entire fall season after suffering a relatively serious elbow injury during the summer.  He returned to the mound for January intrasquads and threw very well and thus Marquess had no hesitation in bringing him in on opening day.  And Leva certainly came through in a big way.

Leva finished the game out for Stanford tossing four shutout frames with just three hits allowed.  He walked only one batter while recording a career-high six strike outs.  Leva's previous high came in his final outing of 2004 when he punched out five St. John's hitters during his complete game victory in the NCAA regionals.  It was certainly a very encouraging outing for Leva, who is one of four sophomore pitchers that has shown tremendous improvement since the end of last season (see the fall and preseason practice reports) and will pitch a significant amount for the team this year.

Overall at the plate on Saturday, the shortstop Minaker was the star of the day finishing a perfect 5-for-5 with a double and an RBI.  As expected, Minaker was put in the #2 spot in the batting order thus making his primary function in the lineup getting on base in front of the trio of big hitters in Lowrie, Mayberry, Jr., and Hester.  As a result of getting on base five times, Minaker scored four runs.

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Sunday saw the Cardinal and Bulldogs play a pair of games with Stanford winning both by the scores of 7-0 and 8-4.  The first game saw Jeff Gilmore and Nolan Gallagher combine on a five-hit shutout while Lowrie supplied most of the offense at the plate with a couple of home runs.

Gilmore was Stanford's #2 starter last year in going 10-2 with a 4.43 ERA.  He tossed a complete game victory in his final start of the season during regional play and on Sunday he picked up right where he left off.  Showcasing a dazzling array of off-speed pitches and his usual cut-fastball, Gilmore tossed six innings with just two hits allowed, no walks, and six strike outs.  It was without a doubt one of Gilmore's most dominant performances while wearing a Stanford uniform.  Only two hitters reached base over the six innings - a two-out single in the second and a two-out double in the fourth.  Gilmore was flat-out dominant the first trip through the order chalking up four strike outs and then let his defense do most of the work the second and third time through.  If not for the strict pitch count (no Cardinal pitcher threw over 85 pitches this weekend), Gilmore certainly could have made a run at a complete game.  The junior right-hander retired the last seven batters he faced.

Offensively, Lowrie got things started for Stanford when he smacked a two-run home run to right field with one out in the bottom of the first.  The Cardinal pushed the lead up to 3-0 in the bottom of the third when Hester scored a run with an RBI ground out.

The Stanford hitters were held off the scoreboard through the middle innings before breaking open the contest with three scores in the seventh and a single tally in the eighth.  In that seventh inning, Sorgi drew a one-out walk and would score two batters later when Minaker singled through the left side.  Then it was Lowrie's turn and the slugging second baseman's big weekend continued when he laced another home run to right.  It was Lowrie's second career multi-home run game.  Stanford's final run of the game, in the bottom of the eighth, scored when Sorgi singled home Rapoport.

After Gilmore's masterful six innings, the freshman Gallagher was called in to pitch.  The fireballing Montana native made quite a debut as he recorded three shutout innings to close the game out with three hits allowed, no walks, and three strike outs.  Gallagher regularly pumped in fastballs at 91 MPH and then was able to keep the Bulldog hitters off-balance with a hard biting slider and a decent change-up.  Gallagher has some of the most electric stuff on this pitching staff and it was out in full display on Sunday afternoon.

The first game of the doubleheader truly was a perfect game for Stanford on the mound and in the field.  The Cardinal pitchers allowed no runs with just five hits surrendered.  The two pitchers who threw went the entire nine innings without walking anyone while the defense did not commit a single error.  Generally you don't see that type of efficiency the opening weekend of the season.

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The nightcap on Sunday saw Stanford double up Fresno State on the scoreboard posting the 8-4 victory.  Greg Reynolds earned the start and it was an outing with mixed results.  Reynolds was flat-out dominant during January intrasquad games and during Sunday's series finale he continued to display excellent stuff.  A combination though of a couple of location mistakes and some bad luck cut Reynolds' outing short.  The sophomore right-hander, like Romanczuk and Gilmore, was pulled after about 80-85 pitches and thus only threw 3 1/3 innings.  Reynolds surrendered single runs in the first, third, and fourth frames as he pitched out of the stretch for most of his outing.

As mentioned, Reynolds had good stuff on Sunday evening (fastball in the low 90's with a good curve mixed in) and that accounted for an impressive five strike outs in his 3 1/3 innings.  Fresno though would touch him up for eight hits - seven of which were singles.  In the first, a leadoff walk came back to hurt the towering righty as Kent Sakamoto came through with a clutch two-out single to score the run.  In the second, a pair of infield singles, a balk, and a ground out scored another run.  Then in the fourth, a leadoff double, a one-out single, and a ground out plated Fresno State's third run of the game off Reynolds.  Fellow sophomore Blake Holler relieved Reynolds in that fourth inning and he easily retired the side.

Facing arguably the Bulldogs' top pitcher in Matt Garza, Stanford exploded for four runs in the bottom of the first inning.  Garza was rated by Baseball America as the preseason pick for WAC Pitcher of the Year based on a strong ending to last season.  The junior right-hander was clocked as high as 95 MPH with his fastball Sunday evening, but that didn't seem to effect the Cardinal hitters.  In that first inning, it was Mayberry, Jr. bringing home the first run with a two-out single.  He immediately came home to score when Hester doubled down the left field line.  Then Rapoport blooped a double into left to score Hester which was followed by Ben Summerhays reaching on a fielding error by the right fielder (when he mishandled a hard line drive) to score the fourth and final run of the inning.

The Cardinal took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the fourth when they added an unearned run off Garza.  Brendan Domaracki, who got the start in left field, led off by reaching on an error.  He would move to second on a passed ball and scored on Chris Lewis' RBI single.  Stanford then scored a run in the sixth when Lowrie singled home Minaker who had earlier reached on an error.  Then in the seventh, it was a couple of solo home runs by Rapoport and Sorgi - both shots to right that easily cleared the wall - that accounted for Stanford's seventh and eighth runs of the game.

Meanwhile, the lefty Holler was coming through with an outstanding outing in long relief.  The Indiana native put up zeros in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings before Fresno finally got to him with a run in the eighth.  In his 4 2/3 innings, Holler allowed just the one run on three hits with two walks and five strike outs.

Freshman Erik Davis got the call in the ninth for his collegiate debut and the local product had no problems going through the Fresno hitters 1-2-3 getting a ground out, a strike out, and a pop-out to end the game.

Game #1:
Fresno State  1 0 0  0 0 0  0 0 0  -  1   5   1
Stanford      0 0 2  7 2 0  1 0 x  - 12  14   0

Game #2:
Fresno State  0 0 0  0 0 0  0 0 0  -  0   5   1
Stanford      2 0 1  0 0 0  3 1 x  -  7  10   0

Game #3:
Fresno State  1 1 0  1 0 0  0 1 0  -  4  11   5
Stanford      4 0 0  1 0 1  2 0 x  -  8  11   0


Series Notes:

* Stanford outscored Fresno State by an impressive 27-5 margin in the three games.  The Cardinal hit .324 as a team and did not commit a single error during the series.

* On the strength of his five-hit performance in the opener, Chris Minaker was the top hitter, average-wise, of the weekend.  The junior shortstop, who looks to have found a home in the #2 slot, finished 7-for-12 (.583) with two RBI.  He scored nine runs.

* Jed Lowrie also had a huge weekend going 6-for-12 with his three homers and seven RBI.  Mayberry, Jr. (5-for-10, 4 RBI) and Hester (6-for-14, 3 2B, 4 RBI) also supplied plenty of offense from the middle of the order.

* The Stanford lineup remained relatively the same the entire series.  Freshman Michael Taylor started the first two games in right field, but after going hitless in both contests, fellow freshman Brendan Domaracki got a start in his place in the finale (he went 0-for-2).  Domaracki started in left with usual left fielder Chris Lewis sliding over to right.  In addition, Ryan Seawell got the start at DH against the lefty on Saturday with Ben Summerhays getting the call in both games on Sunday with a pair of righties going.  The duo combined for a 2-for-11 effort.

* Chris Lewis led off in all three games and went 2-for-12 with two walks.

* The home runs from Rapoport and Sorgi were the first career round-trippers for each player.

* Stanford used seven pitchers in the three games this weekend.  Among the regulars, expected closer Jeff Stimpson and Matt Manship were the two hurlers not to throw.  Both Stimpson and Manship were warming in the ninth inning late Sunday in case Davis faltered.

* Sunday's first game was played in just two hours and five minutes.  It was Stanford's fastest nine-inning game since April of 2003 when behind a complete-game from John Hudgins, the Cardinal knocked off Washington State 6-1 in just two hours and one minute.


Around the Pac-10:

Two other Pac-10 teams were in action this weekend.  #9 Arizona State dropped 2-of-3 at home to #22 Long Beach State.  The Dirtbags made quite a statement in the rubber game on Sunday thrashing the Sun Devils by an 11-1 score.  Meanwhile down in Los Angeles, the UCLA Bruins opened the John Savage era by dropping 2-of-3 to visiting Cal Poly.  The Bruins have been picked up finish anywhere from sixth to eighth in the conference this year while Cal Poly is ranked #38 in Baseball America's Preseason Top 50.


On Deck:

The Cardinal head out on the road next weekend when they travel south to take on the defending national champion Cal State Fullerton Titans.  The Titans are ranked #3 in the country and will be opening their season when Stanford comes to town.  Friday's contest begins at 7:00pm with Saturday's game getting underway at 6:00pm and the finale on Sunday starting at 1:00pm.

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