2002 Baseball CWS and Season Recap

JJ checks in from Omaha with his recap and analysis of Stanford's College World Series, season run, and unforgettable seniors. For an inside look at what made the Cardinal tick, as well as why they fell short of the title, JJ again proves to be the "foremost authority on Stanford baseball." Read on for JJ's look back at 2002 and look ahead to 2003... also JJ's Bootleg swan song.

These endings are really becoming painful.  In '98, the Cardinal, who were ranked #1 the entire regular season, were upset by Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State in the regionals, denying them a trip to the College World Series.  In 1999 with a trip to the championship game at stake, Florida State battled back from 9-7 down in the bottom of the ninth and then 11-9 down in the bottom of the tenth before finally winning in the bottom of the 13th on a three-run home run to send Stanford home.  In 2000, the Cardinal breezed to the national championship game and had a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth over LSU in that contest. But the Tigers battled back off Justin Wayne with three runs in the eighth and then a single run in the ninth to shock Stanford and give LSU the title.  In 2001, the Cardinal surprised the college baseball world by once again reaching the national championship game, but once more came up short when they were defeated by Miami 12-1.  That brings us to 2002, and for Stanford it was another bitter end to their season in Omaha.  Two one run losses to the Texas Longhorns including a 6-5 setback to send the Cardinal packing.

Ranked #1 in all three preseason polls, it was expected to be a banner season for the Cardinal in 2002.  Before the season began, the players came up with the motto "Unfinished Business" as they looked to go that one final step in Omaha.  Unfortunately, at least for the graduating seniors and the departing juniors, that business in Omaha will forever remain unfinished.

Stanford rolled through their non-conference schedule compiling a 20-6 record heading into Pac-10 play in early April, which included impressive series wins over Cal State Fullerton, Florida State, USC, and Texas. Conference play didn't slow the Cardinal early on as Stanford opened the Pac-10 season with series wins at Arizona and at home versus USC.  In late April though, the team hit a wall as they dropped consecutive road series' at Washington and Oregon State to put the Card at an even 6-6 in conference play.  But once the calendar flipped over to May, this team seemed to turn it up a notch.  They concluded the regular season with a 10-2 Pac-10 record and although they finished a game behind USC in the conference standings, this team appeared to be peaking at just the right time.

For the seventh straight year, Stanford hosted a regional and for the fifth time in that stretch, the Cardinal came away victorious.  A 13 inning marathon over Cal State Fullerton in the opener and two wins over a tough Long Beach State team sent Stanford to the Super Regionals versus conference rival USC.  The Cardinal would make quick work of the Trojans with two straight wins to advance to their fourth consecutive College World Series. 

In Omaha, Stanford opened things up with a 4-3 victory over Notre Dame to move into the winners bracket.  But that stay in the winners bracket was shortlived as the Texas Longhorns edged the Card 8-7 to put Stanford one loss away from elimination.  Stanford fought off elimination in their next game with a 5-3 win over Notre Dame, but once again fell just short to Texas as the Longhorns ended the Cardinal's season with a 6-5 loss.

Top to bottom, this was probably the best lineup I've ever seen at Stanford since I've been following the program (the last ten years).  This club had it all with a good mixture of power and speed, along with that intangible of experience.  They finished the year with a .318 team batting average, which was good for third all-time at Stanford, while the 88 homers they hit was the fifth highest total in school history.  I always thought the leader of this offense, despite not putting up the best overall numbers on the team, was second baseman Chris O'Riordan.  I always thought that if this team needed a hit in the clutch, the guy you wanted at the plate was O'Riordan.  The senior came through with two very memorable hits this season that stand out to me.  Who will ever forget the grand slam he hit in the bottom of the ninth with two outs versus Texas in late March to send the game into extra innings?  Or how about the clutch single in the bottom of the ninth against Cal State Fullerton with the team trailing 2-1?  If CO doesn't get that base hit, Stanford most likely loses that game and probably wouldn't have reached the CWS.  One can only wonder what O'Riordan would have done versus Texas as the senior was left in the on-deck circle after Jason Cooper grounded into a season-ending double play.

In terms of home runs, this was also a very balanced ball club.  Catcher Ryan Garko paced the club with 14 bombs and will certainly look to increase that total next year in his senior season.  Left fielder Jason Cooper was next on the team with 13 homers, while Carlos Quentin (12) and O'Riordan (10) gave this team four double digit home run players.  The most impressive individual season for Stanford this year though came from sophomore center fielder Sam Fuld. Fuld led the club with a .375 batting average and will enter his junior season next year as Stanford's all-time leader in batting average.  Fuld also went through one of the greatest hot streaks I've ever seen as he hit a sizzling .519 over the final 24 games of the regular season.

Something that doesn't really show up on the stat sheet was probably the #1 strength of this team and that was infield defense.  The starting infield of Arik VanZandt at first base, Chris O'Riordan at second base, Andy Topham at shortstop, and Scott Dragicevich at third base was easily the top infield defense I've ever seen here at Stanford.  All four players just kept making spectacular play after spectacular play throughout the season and were as big a reason as any why Stanford made another appearance in Omaha. These four guys were all seniors and will all be surely missed next season.

Although this certainly wasn't the deepest pitching staff Mark Marquess has ever had here at Stanford, at least at the top of the staff, there may not have been anybody better in the country.  Jeremy Guthrie complied one of the greatest seasons ever by a Stanford pitcher in 2002 as he finished the year with a 13-2 record and a 2.51 ERA while earning first-team All American honors.  I would have to say the most memorable Guthrie outing of the year was his 13 inning masterpiece against Cal State Fullerton in the postseason opener.  The guy just refused to lose out on the mound and that outing will be one that will certainly be talked about at Sunken Diamond for years to come. 

Tim Cunningham and John Hudgins completed the starting rotation and both had solid years.  They combined for a 20-4 record and often pitched deep into games.  And although Cunningham struggled mightly in his CWS outing, he did come through with five consecutive wins down the stretch to get Stanford into the College World Series.  In the bullpen, two guys really stand out in senior Dan Rich and junior Ryan McCally.  Rich, who missed the majority of the 2001 campaign with an elbow injury, came back strong this year with a 2.45 ERA and six saves.  The lefty was at his best in postseason play with a 1.08 ERA and four saves including a scoreless 3 1/3 innings versus Notre Dame in the CWS.  McCally was solid throughout the year with a team-leading seven saves and a 3.53 ERA.  He finished the year strong with seven strong innings (two hits, one run allowed) in the CWS and will be looked upon to be a leader in 2003.

So why did the Cardinal not win the College World Series in 2002?  I mentioned above that this was probably the most balanced team 1 through 9 in the batting order, but you wouldn't have known it in the CWS.  While the top five hitters in the order all hit above .300 in the CWS, the bottom four guys had some serious problems hitting.  Carlos Quentin (.077, 1-for-13), Scott Dragicevich (.133, 2-for-15), Arik VanZandt (.182, 2-for-11), and Andy Topham (.091, 1-for-11) all struggled as those numbers would indicate.  You wonder that if some of those guys could have just come through with one or two clutch hits, this team could have gone farther.  Another problem in the CWS also had to be the start of Tim Cunningham. The junior lefty surrendered seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings in the all-important second game of the CWS which forced Stanford into the loser's bracket.  The Cardinal just didn't have enough pitching depth to get out of that loser's bracket this season and were forced to use Jeremy Guthrie on just four days rest versus Texas and it was clear Guthrie didn't have his usual great stuff.  So close for Stanford in 2002, but still a great season overall.

Here is a look statistically how the Stanford players ended in 2002 ...

* Sam Fuld - .375, 8 HR, 47 RBI, 20 2B, 4 3B
* Scott Dragicevich - .350, 5 HR, 35 RBI, 17 2B
* Jason Cooper - .350, 13 HR, 57 RBI, .611 SLG%
* Chris O'Riordan - .332, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 17 2B
* Ryan Garko - .314, 14 HR, 55 RBI, .430 OB%
* Arik VanZandt - .309, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 10 SB
* Carlos Quentin - .303, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 19 HBP
* Chris Carter - .299, 8 HR, 20 RBI, .427 OB%
* Andy Topham - .287, 5 HR, 42 RBI, 10 SB
* Donny Lucy - .282, 3 HR, 29 RBI, 6 SB
* Brian Hall - .267, 3 HR, 35 RBI, 14 SB

* Jeremy Guthrie - 13-2, 2.51 ERA, 157 2/3 IP, 36 BB, 136 K
* Tim Cunningham - 10-3, 4.26 ERA, 112 IP, 47 BB, 67 SO
* John Hudgins - 10-1, 4.71 ERA, 105 IP, 35 BB, 62 SO

* Dan Rich - 2-2, 2.45 ERA, 6 SV
* Darin Naatjes - 4-0, 2.53 ERA, 2 SV
* Ryan McCally - 4-3, 3.53 ERA, 7 SV
* Drew Ehrlich - 0-2, 5.45 ERA, 2 SV
* J.D. Willcox - 2-1, 6.00 ERA
* Mark Jecmen - 0-4, 8.26 ERA

Here's how this year's squad stacked up on the school's all-time single season record book ...

* Batting Average: .318 - 3rd all-time
* Hits: 749 - 5th
* Doubles: 147 - 4th
* Home Runs: 88 - 5th
* Total Bases: 1,206 - 3rd
* Fielding Percentage: .971 - 5th
* Double Plays Turned: 70 - 1st
* Saves: 17 - 5th

Here's where some of the individual accomplishments of this year's players rated on the all-time single season lists ...

* At-bats: Sam Fuld - 293, 4th all-time
* Hits: Sam Fuld - 110, 1st
* Hit by Pitch: Carlos Quentin - 19, Tied 1st
* Hit by Pitch: Ryan Garko - 16, Tied 5th
* Hit by Pitch: Chris O'Riordan - 16, Tied 5th

* Wins: Jeremy Guthrie - 13, Tied 7th
* Innings: Jeremy Guthrie - 157 2/3, 1st
* Strikeouts: Jeremy Guthrie - 136, Tied 6th
* Saves: Ryan McCally - 7, Tied 9th


Now to look toward the 2003 season.  Stanford loses all four of their starting infielders and is expected to lose left fielder Jason Cooper to professional baseball.  That leaves Fuld, Quentin, Garko, Carter, and Hall as the returning starting position players. Fuld in center and Quentin in right should remain the same.  Garko could either remain at catcher or move over to DH to make room for Donny Lucy.  If Garko stays at catcher, Lucy will probably shift over to first base.  Chris Carter will be in the lineup somewhere likely either at first, in left, or at DH. Billy Paganetti should get a fresh start next season after missing the majority of this year with an injury.  Paganetti should get a look at first and can also play corner outfield.  Jonny Ash at second, Tobin Swope at short, and Brian Hall at third are my guesses at who will start on the infield next year.  Danny Putnam should also challenge for playing time in left. And of course, there should be a freshman or two that will challenge for playing time.

On the pitching side of things, Jeremy Guthrie is gone to pro ball, but Cunningham could be back after being drafted only in the 23rd round this year.  If Cunningham does come back, he and Hudgins should form a lethal 1-2 punch in the starting rotation.  Mark Jecmen struggled for the majority of this season, but should be given a look to start next year.  Other candidates to start include McCally and Ehrlich along with incoming freshman Mark Romanczuk (if he decides to come to Stanford after being drafted in the fifth round).  Darin Naatjes is a wild card after being drafted in the 14th round.  If he returns to Stanford next year, he could play a big role on the pitching staff.  This team won't be ranked preseason #1 next season, but behind likely preseason All-Americans in Fuld, Garko, Quentin, and Hudgins (and possibly Cunningham) this team should once again contend for a Pac-10 title and make some noise in the postseason.

Well, it's been a fun year.  Although the Card came up just short in Omaha once again, I've had a lot of fun following this team this season.  Unfortunately, this will be my last article on Stanford baseball here on The Bootleg.  Since I was eight years old (and for the past ten years), Stanford baseball has been a passion of mine.  But it's time to move on as I'm off to college in the fall.  I hope everyone has enjoyed my work here on this site over the past three years and I wish the Cardinal the best of luck in the future...


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