Baseball Suffers Rare Loss to Spartans

Stanford started a six-game homestand Tuesday night just the way they wanted, picking up a quick 5-1 lead with early offense. Then disaster struck when veteran Cardinal pitchers floundered out of the bullpen. San Jose State surged ahead and held on for an 11-8 win, their first in nine games against Stanford. Also, a Spartan freshman injured during the game suffered a medical emergency afterward.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Stanford tried to mount a comeback after trailing 11-5.  Redshirt junior Adam Sorgi delivered with a seeing-eye single through the right side that just squeezed through the reaching gloves of San Jose State first baseman Marcus McKimmy and second baseman Karson Klauer.  Sorgi drove in two runs on the play, the first for the Cardinal since the second inning, but celebration immediately was replaced by concern from both the home and visiting fans for McKimmy and Klauer.  The two Spartans launched head-first in a horrific collision.

Both stayed in the game after attention from trainers, though Klauer left in the top of the 8th, giving way to a pinch hitter.  Little was thought of that substitution at the time.  Then after the conclusion of the three-hour 39-minute game, Klauer began to struggle with his breathing.  Paramedics were summoned to Sunken Diamond and tended to the San Jose State freshman, who was reportedly slipping in and out of consciousness.  He was carted onto an ambulance and driven off the field at 10:17pm PDT, 35 minutes after the game ended.

The medical emergency put into perspective the evening's sporting event, which started wonderfully for the home Cardinal and then soured as the game progressed.  Stanford jumped to an early 5-1 lead through the first two innings before giving up 10 straight runs and ultimately falling 11-8.  The defeat marked the end of an eight-game Stanford winning streak against San Jose State and the first loss to the Spartans in Sunken Diamond since 2000.

"Well, we couldn't stop them," says Stanford head coach Mark Marquess.  "I think they seven or eight hits in that one inning.  We didn't make errors.  We didn't walk anybody.  We just could not stop them.  They hit a couple balls really hard, and they had a couple balls they didn't hit hard."

"It would have been different if we had walked a bunch.  We walked a couple and hit a couple batters, but that wasn't the deal.  We just couldn't stop their offense, and they did a good job swinging the bat," the coach continues.  "Sure, we had a lead and couldn't hold it.  But you have to give them credit, too.  They swung the bats.  Again, we just couldn't get them out.  It's harder to take if you make errors and walk people, but we made some really good plays that got us out of some jams."

The Cardinal have been sliding mercilessly the last month and a half, losing 16 of their last 22 games.  The last time Stanford Baseball was on a roll, they strung together eight straight wins in February and March.  The last seven of those victories came in the comfy confines of Sunken Diamond, which was reason for hope this week.  Stanford Tuesday night was starting a six-game homestand spanning eight days.  Few things cure losing like playing at home.

Instead, the Cardinal have started that stretch with a loss and have to worry about how they will find pitching to carry them.  Stanford threw five pitchers against San Jose State, in a game where conserving arms would have been critically important.  The Cardinal follow that night game already with a day game today at 3pm against Fresno State.

"After a tough loss where we had a lead, I think it's good to come back and play, rather than have to wait until Friday to play again," opines Marquess.  "I think we look forward to coming back and playing."

The Cardinal put up a couple crooked numbers in the first two frames Tuesday night by hitting the ball well early.  Stanford led off the bottom of the first inning with back-to-back singles by sophomore Sean Ratliff and sophomore Toby Gerhart.  Ratliff advanced to third on a groundball fielder's choice by junior Michael Taylor, next scoring on a single back up the middle by sophomore Joey August.  After a strikeout, Stanford scored another run on a two-out single by junior Brian Juhl through the right side.

Three more runs came in much more eventful bottom of the second.  Freshman Adam Gaylord started with a one-out single and then went to third on a double crushed to center field by Ratliff.  The ball carried outfielder Brian Yocke all the way to the wall, and he put a glove on the ball but crashed hard and lost it.  Gerhart drove in Gaylord with a grounder down the third base line which was fielded but thrown off-line to the catcher at home, with Gaylord sliding barely before the tag.  A passed ball next let Ratliff score from third, but more noteworthy was Gerhart's aggressive and speedy baserunning to go to third all the way from first on the play.  That proved important when Taylor's subsequent groundout brought Gerhart in to score.

The next three innings were quiet for the Cardinal, though.  Three batters came to the plate in the fifth after four in the fourth.  Sophomore Cord Phelps did his part in the third to start a rally with a lead-off double to left-center, which he stretched from a single with aggressive baserunning and a good slide.  Gaylord also got aboard with a four-pitch walk, but two Stanford batters struck out in the inning and Gerhart ended the frame with a chopper to the pitcher.

By the time Stanford next scored in the bottom of the sixth on that fateful single by Sorgi which netted the San Jose State infield collision, a 5-1 lead had transformed into an 11-5 deficit.  San Jose State scored one run each in the top of the second and fourth innings, the latter coming on a home run crushed to left field by Ryan Angel.  The big blow, though, came in the top of the fifth, when the Spartans plated six runs on seven hits to take the lead they would never relinquish.

Sophomore Austin Yount started the game and pitched well enough for a Tuesday game.  He yielded back-to-back singles to open the first inning but then recorded three straight outs, including a strikeout and an excellent pick-off at second base.  Yount gave up two more hits and hit another batter in the second inning - all with two outs - but he retired the side in order in the third.  It was not the home run in the fourth but a later walk that ended his day.  Junior David Stringer came on in relief and closed the inning with a ground ball on his first pitch.

Stringer, who leads Stanford with seven saves, had a disastrous fifth frame.  He gave up four straight hits to opening the inning before a visit to the mound, after which he recorded a fly out to center field.  A single back up the middle by the next batter ended Stringer's day, with the lead gone and the score tied at 5-5.  Sophomore Max Fearnow came into the game and quickly struck out his first hitter, but two straight hits drove in three more runs.

Of the six hits in the inning, two went for extra bases.  Both of those took freshman left fielder Gerhart to the wall in left-center, and both times he put a glove on the ball but dropped it.  Both plays were ruled hits, a triple and double, and not errors.  The triple may have been the most difficult to swallow, with Gerhart seemingly securing the ball for a moment before bobbling it.

San Jose State tacked on three more runs in the sixth, all against junior Nolan Gallagher.  He replaced Fearnow to start the frame and quickly loaded the bases with no outs on two singles and a five-pitch walk.  A wild pitch scored the first run, also advancing the other two runners to second and third.  They were able to score on a single and a groundout.

Gallagher had been used in a starting role all season before moving to the bullpen this past weekend at Cal.  In Saturday's heart-stopping 4-3 win over the Bears, Gallagher made his 2007 relief debut with two innings of one-hit baseball to earn his first save since his freshman year.  That bullpen magic was not working on Tuesday, disappointingly.  His one flash of excitement came at the end of the sixth inning, with a strikeout on a nasty slider.  Gallagher did not follow with success in the seventh, however, loading the bases for the second straight inning (two singles, one HBP, one out).

With Stanford already having gone through a pair each of its best junior and sophomore pitchers and the game unraveling, Marquess turned to freshman righthander Brandt Walker.  He came into the game for just his second appearance in the last 21 Stanford games.  Walker had a promising start to the season in the opening series at Cal State Fullerton, when he tossed three innings of shutout baseball.  His control afterward started slipping, culminating in a nightmarish five walks in just 1 1/3 innings at Santa Clara on March 6.

This was an unlikely pitcher to steady Stanford, and also an unlikely spot for Walker to reclaim his confidence.  But the freshman escaped the bases-loaded jam with an inning-ending ground ball double play.  Walker came back in the eighth inning and struck out the side, flashing his curveball.  In the ninth, he was touched for his first and only hit of the evening, though, it was a chopper to freshman third baseman Brian Moon on which he whiffed.  San Jose State sacrifice bunted the runner to second, and Walker put another baserunner aboard whom he drilled in the back.  He finished his 2 2/3 innings of work next with a ground ball double play, however.

It was a surprising and superb performance from Walker, who stopped San Jose State and gave his teammates a chance to even the score at the plate.  Though the Cardinal would plate just one more run in the bottom of the seventh and lost the game, the performance was an important one on the return road for Walker.

"He looked good.  He's a freshman and he pitched well," offers Marquess.  "He had a good fastball, and he got his breaking ball over.  It was a good outing for him."

Though this was just the second official outing for Walker in the last month and a half, the freshman built his way back through mid-week "JV" intersquad games that go unreported and unnoticed to the public eye.

"It's just a matter of getting out there and pitching.  That's what we try to do, whether it's an intersquad or whatever.  We try to get them out there so that they face live hitters and try to get them out, with umpires.  There is just no substitute for that," Marquess explains.  "It's a matter of maturity, and hopefully that comes to him.  Sometimes it comes sooner than for others.  He has a good arm, and as you can see, he has a good curveball.  It's just a matter of getting out there and repeating it.  Hopefully he can get some confidence."

The other highlight in this down evening was Ratliff at the plate.  He notched his first career four-hit game, going 4-for-5 on the evening and scoring three of Stanford's runs.  In addition to his first-inning single and the long double to center in the second, the sophomore singled to open the sixth inning and was one of the two runs that scored on Sorgi's single through the right side.  Ratliff's fourth hit came in the seventh inning, a triple to left-center that drove in the Cardinal's eighth and final run: junior Matt Cano, a walk-on who made his collegiate debut pinch running and then came around to score his first career run.

Ratliff was on deck in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and would have been the tying run, but a Randy Molina strikeout kept him from the plate.  Ratliff was also a home run away from hitting for the cycle, which would not have surprised us.  He leads the Cardinal in slugging percentage (.524) and home runs (six).

"He's a young player, and he's improving," says Marquess of the sophomore.  "He still makes some mistakes and does some things; he knows that.  Offensively, he's becoming a better player and tougher.  Cutting down his strikeouts a little bit - he's working on that.  He's a good player, and he should get better if he works on it.  He's working hard at it."

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