Cardinal Drop Series To WSU

After seven consecutive years of dominant play against Washington State (21-0 record), the Cougars finally got some revenge against the Cardinal. New-and-improved WSU mustered 7-1 and 8-5 victories in the first two games of the series before Stanford bounced back with a 5-3 win on Monday afternoon. Here is a complete review of the conference-opening series.

It wasn't exactly how the Cardinal envisioned the opening of their Pac-10 schedule, but then again, it could have been worse.  After a pair of losses in the first two games of the series, Stanford bounced back with a 5-3 victory over Washington State on a cool and windy Monday afternoon at Sunken Diamond.  Matt Manship notched his first win of the season after tossing 6 1/3 quality innings while Jeremy Bleich recorded yet another save.

Manship was dropped down to the #3 spot in the starting rotation this week after an inconsistent non-conference season in which he compiled a 5.92 ERA.  In fact, it was even a bit of a surprise to see the senior right-hander starting at all against the Cougars after he got up in the bullpen late in the game on Saturday.  The move to keep the Texas native in the rotation though would pay off.

On Monday, Manship scattered nine hits over his 6 1/3 innings yielding just two runs.  He wasn't particularly dominant (2 BB, 4 SO), but did an excellent job of preventing the big inning as the Cardinal led the entire game.  All nine hits allowed were singles as WSU didn't get to Manship until striking for single runs in the sixth and seventh innings.  With Stanford in front by a 3-2 score, Manship was removed from the contest in the top of the seventh inning with a runner at first base and one out.

Bleich was summoned from the bullpen and the freshman lefty calmly retired #2 hitter Travis Coulter and #3 hitter Jay Miller on fly ball outs to keep the Cardinal in front.

Bleich surrendered an unearned run in the top of the eighth when a Chris Minaker throwing error to third base allowed a run to score.  However, with runners on second and third and just one out - with the Cardinal leading 5-3 at the time - Bleich retired the next two hitters on a weak ground out to third and a line out to right field.  That would be the pivotal inning for the southpaw as he managed to strand the potential tying run at second base.

Meanwhile, Bleich worked around a harmless two-out single in the top of the ninth inning to keep the Cougars off the scoreboard and seal the Stanford victory.

Offensively, the Cardinal managed eight hits on Monday and easily could have put up many more runs on the scoreboard if not for some untimely double plays.  All five runs were scored by the top two hitters in the starting lineup: Joey August/Ryan Seawell and Jim Rapoport.  All five RBI's were recorded by the 3-4-5 hitters: Chris Minaker, Michael Taylor, and Randy Molina.

With Stanford leading 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Molina delivered the biggest hit of the game when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out.  The sophomore DH, who has really started to come into his own over the last few weeks, blasted a doubled into the left field corner scoring a pair of runs to push the Cardinal's lead up to three. 

Minaker finished the afternoon 2-for-3 with two singles, two RBI, and a stolen base.  August (2-for-3, SB) and Rapoport (2-for-2, SB) also had excellent afternoons at the top of the order.

Twice, Stanford grounded into double plays with the bases loaded though and thus had to scratch and claw for their two-run victory.

Monday's win prevented getting swept at home for the first time since 1997 after Washington State handed the Cardinal a 7-1 defeat on Saturday and an 8-5 loss Sunday.

The series-opener was much closer than the score indicated as the teams battled to a 1-1 tie through the first seven innings.  Greg Reynolds had another excellent outing as the ace hurler surrendered just one unearned run over those first seven frames.  Reynolds wasn't particularly dominant in terms on strike out numbers (two), but threw just 82 pitches in the first seven innings and once again gave his team an excellent chance to win.

Things would start to unravel though in the top of the eighth as with a runner on third base and two outs, Reynolds uncorked a wild pitch on a 3-2 breaking ball that bounced in the dirt and rolled away from John Hester.  That allowed the go-ahead run to score and would turn out to be all WSU would need.

But Jeff Miller followed the wild pitch with a mammoth blast to left field - a two-run shot that knocked Reynolds out of the game and gave the Cougars a 4-1 advantage.  Then in the ninth, Washington State plated three more runs on just two hits against the freshman duo of Austin Yount and Max Fearnow.  A costly throwing error on a bunt from Fearnow opened the door for the big inning.

Mike Wagner had an excellent outing as the WSU starter firing seven strong innings with just one run and six hits allowed.  The Cardinal had a handful of opportunities in the early innings against Wagner, but managed just a single run in the bottom of the fifth on an August RBI single.  Wagner settled into a groove over the middle portion of the contest and then a pair of relievers completely shut down the Stanford offense in the eighth and ninth.

Sunday looked as if it was going to be a much better outcome for the Cardinal when they scored four runs in the bottom of the first inning against Washington State starter Nick Ison.  Two singles, three walks, and an HBP led to the four tallies and an early 4-1 lead.  Unfortunately, Stanford mustered only one more run on four hits over the final eight innings as the Cougars offense applied pressure throughout the contest - eventually taking the lead in the top of the sixth.

It was the first difficult outing of the season for sophomore David Stringer.  After allowing a run in the first, Stringer was tagged for three runs on three hits in the top of the second which forced his removal from the game.  Stringer was bumped up to the #2 spot in the starting rotation this week, but managed just 1 1/3 innings pitched as WSU quickly responded to tie the game at 4-4.

Nolan Gallagher had a solid long relief stint in place of Stringer tossing 4 2/3 innings with two runs allowed.  However, one of those runs was scored in the top of the sixth which put WSU ahead by a 6-5 margin.  Gallagher scattered eight hits and struck out five.  Meanwhile, WSU added single runs (one unearned) against Matt Leva in the eighth and ninth frames for some insurance.

Washington State's offense proved to be as advertised.  The Cougars don't have a lot of home run power in their lineup, but do feature plenty of scrappy hitters who make a lot of contact and thus are tough to strike out.  Many of their hits during the series were harmless singles that landed in front of the Cardinal outfielders, but when they were able to string them together, it meant big trouble for the Stanford pitching staff.  WSU isn't the most talented team in the conference, but they're head-and-shoulders better than their club from last year.  And when they put guys on base, head coach Donnie Marbut was not afraid to move guys around as the Cougars did an excellent job all weekend bunting runners over, executing hit-and-runs, and stealing bases.

This was compared to a Stanford offense that, for the most part, had their share of struggles.  This was never more evident than on Sunday when after scoring four runs in the bottom of the first (mainly on poor control from Ison), the Cardinal hitters basically shut it down.  At one point, WSU hurlers set down 14 Stanford hitters in a row.  When the Cardinal finally put runners on base late in the contest, a bevy of fly outs, pop outs, and strike outs prevented any runs from scoring.

To their credit, Monday was a much better showing - especially considering the Cougars held their ace, Wayne Daman, Jr. (5-0, 2.38 ERA), for the series finale.  While some untimely double plays prevented any big innings, Stanford did manage seven hits and three runs against Daman in 4 1/3 innings.  The experienced right-hander also went his entire stint on the mound without recording a single strike out. 

Stanford, now unranked in Baseball America's Top 25, will return to action this weekend for a three-game series against the red-hot USC Trojans.  First pitch on Friday evening is scheduled for 6:00 P.M. at Sunken Diamond in a pitching matchup that should feature Reynolds against All-American Ian Kennedy.  USC's Pac-10 leading offense could be on full display Saturday and Sunday (both games start at 1:00 P.M.), so it will be interesting to see if the Cardinal will be able to keep up.  If not, Stanford could be staring at their second straight series loss to open the Pac-10 campaign.

Series Notes:
* Minaker's 11-game hitting streak was snapped Saturday evening with his 0-for-4 performance at the plate.  The senior shortstop did manage three hits over the last two games and now is hitting .352 on the season.

* Molina continued his hot hitting with a 3-for-7 effort at the plate over the three games.  The DH also walked four times and was hit by a pitch.  Molina, now hitting fifth in the order behind Taylor, has a batting average of .435 (10-for-23) and an on-base percentage of .606 (20-for-33).

* Stanford hit just .256 during the series.  Washington State managed 11, 17, and 13 hits respectively in the three games.

* Bleich lowered his ERA to 2.25 (4 ER/16.0 IP) with his excellent relief stint on Monday.  The lefty has walked just three batters to go with his six saves.

* Stanford had won 23 straight games over the Cougars before Saturday's loss.

* The offensive struggles for Hester (2-for-9 this series) and Lewis (0-for-10) continued this weekend.  The seniors are now batting .219 and .186 respectively on the season.

* Castro, who started all three games at first base, had an excellent 3-for-3 (all singles) performance in the series opener.  The freshman was held without a hit (six AB's) over the final two games.

* Stanford didn't hit a single home run during the entire series.

Washington State    0 1 0  0 0 0  0 3 3   -   7  11   2
Stanford            0 0 0  0 1 0  0 0 0   -   1   7   3

WP: Mike Wagner (3-3)
LP: Greg Reynolds (1-2)

HR: Washington State - Jeff Miller (5th)

Washington State    1 3 0  1 0 1  0 1 1   -   8  17   0
Stanford            4 0 1  0 0 0  0 0 0   -   5   6   1

WP: Jayson Miller (2-0)
LP: Nolan Gallagher (2-1)
S: Travis Webb (2)

Washington State    0 0 0  0 0 1  1 1 0   -   3  13   1
Stanford            1 0 1  0 1 0  2 0 X   -   5   8   1

WP: Matt Manship (1-2)
LP: Wayne Daman, Jr. (5-1)
S: Jeremy Bleich (6)

Records: Stanford (12-9, 1-2), Washington State (20-7, 2-1)

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