Off the Schneid

The season of Pac-10 perfect futility is over. After losing their first six conference series of 2007, and seven straight going back to the end of the 2006 season, Stanford Baseball on Sunday took the rubber game against Washington with a 10-7 victory. Six Stanford batters had multiple-hit games, with plenty of power at the plate. Starter Erik Davis gave up just one earned run in 6 2/3 innings.

It took 365 days.  Before Sunday, the last time Stanford won a Pac-10 series came on May 13, 2006 when the Cardinal clinched in a Saturday victory of a three-game sweep at Washington.  After a school-record seven Pac-10 series losses, Stanford on May 13, 2007 at Sunken Diamond took the rubber game against the Huskies for their first Pac-10 series win of the year.

The Cardinal on Sunday beat Washington 10-7, following Saturday's 8-6 victory.  Stanford dropped the series opener Friday, 7-5.

"It's about time," exhales junior Michael Taylor.  "It was a good team effort.  Everyone contributed a little bit to both of our wins.  We got some good pitching performances at times.  We won some big spots today and swung the bat pretty consistently.  From the third or fourth inning on, we had a chance to score every inning.  Anytime you do that, you give yourselves a chance to win.  We executed at the right times and came up with the win."

Continuing a trend that the Cardinal started in late April, the bats came alive throughout this weekend series.  Stanford recorded double-digit hits in all three games, with 16 hits each in the Saturday and Sunday victories.  The Cardinal also combined for just one error in the two wins, while the starting pitching was good.  Sunday's victory went to junior Erik Davis, who started and threw 6 2/3 innings.  Sophomore Austin Yount threw 2 1/3 innings of relief to close the game, though with no save.

"It's good," says head coach Mark Marquess of the team's first conference series win this season.  "We got a good pitching performance by Davis, and we really swung the bats well.  I thought we swung the bats well the whole weekend...  I was very pleased.  They [Washington] are a very good team, and they've been playing very well.  It was big to be able to win the series."

"It was a big lift, from the pitcher's standpoint, when we were able to score a lot of runs.  I'm sure for the position players, it was a big boost for them when I kept putting up 'zero's.  This is a team game.  A lot of times this year, we haven't been able to put both aspects of the game together.  We've hit well but haven't pitched well.  When we've pitched well, we haven't hit well.  For us to win the game today, it had to be both."

Stanford started the game hitting the ball hard, with junior Brendan Domaracki ripping a triple off the wall in right-center in the first inning and redshirt junior Adam Sorgi stroking a double down the first base line in the second.  Domaracki was 90 feet away from scoring with one out, and Sorgi stood on second base with no outs.  Both were stranded, however.

Ironically, the Stanford scoring heated up in the third and fourth innings with two-out rallies.  Domaracki dented the wall again, this time in the third inning to left field for a double.  Sophomore Sean Ratliff singled to bring him home for the game's first run.  The fourth inning broke the game open, with the Cardinal plating four runs with two outs.  Taylor beat out an infield single to the shortstop to lead off but was followed by a pair of pop outs.  Then struggling sophomore Jason Castro came to the plate, sporting a ghastly .152 average.  Castro brought Taylor all the way around with a double pulled down the right field line.  Sophomore Brent Milleville singled to center to score Castro, followed by his second stolen base of the year.  Senior Ryan Seawell drove in two more runs to finish the scoring in the inning with a home run over the left field wall.

Stanford led 5-0 and never looked back.

"When they keep putting up runs, I can just go out there and concentrate hitter to hitter.  That's why I was able to deal," says Davis of the run support from his teammates.  "I know that I don't have to try to be perfect and try to put up zeros every inning.  It's a lot more pressure when it's a 1-0 ballgame and I think, 'I can't let this guy score at all.'"

The game was not without pressure for Davis.  Washington answered Stanford's four-run fourth with three runs of their own in the top of the fifth.  After a fly out and strikeout to open the inning, Davis hit a Husky batter and walked the next.  A wild pitch sent those two runners an extra 90 feet to second and third.  But Davis induced the ground ball he wanted to sophomore Cord Phelps at shortstop that should have ended the inning.  Phelps could not field it cleanly, however, allowing Washington to score the first of three unearned runs in the inning.  A subsequent passed ball and wild pitch did not help matters.  Davis threw a career-high four wild pitches in the game after throwing three the entire season.

The Cardinal coaches saw reason to leave the junior on the mound through the fifth-inning foibles, and Davis responded with a scoreless sixth.  His teammates, meanwhile, scored two runs apiece in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings to stretch the lead to 9-3.

"They shouldn't score a run at all, and instead they score two there.  We've done that a lot this year, and that's hurt us," says Marquess of the top of the fifth.  "I think the key thing is that we came back and kept scoring.  That helped us and demoralized them a little bit."

"He has a good arm.  He's strong," the head coach comments on leaving Davis in the game.  "Sometimes when he gets hit, he leaves his fastball up.  But he won't consistently leave it up.  Like the first inning, he gets two guys out and then leaves the fastball up - two hits.  Then he gets it down again.  He had a good change-up, and I think he had six strikeouts, which is good.  He has good stuff.  We were going to stay with him a long time, unless he lost control or command because he's got good stuff."

"It was good because I still had good stuff, and I think my coach saw that," Davis echoes.  "I just had to get through that inning.  I was able to come back into the dugout, get my composure back under me.  Then I was able to go out there and put up a zero in the sixth inning.  I got a little tired in the seventh, and Austin came in and did a great job finishing the game for us."

Davis and Yount combined for seven strikeouts against two walks.  It was the second straight game closed by Yount, who faced one batter on Saturday to record the game's final out.  He faced 10 batters on Sunday, retiring the first he faced with two outs in the seventh and retiring the side in order in the ninth.  It was the eighth inning which gave the sophomore righthander some trouble.  He gave up a lead-off double and then hit the next batter.  A triple drove in both of those runners, and the third run came on a groundout.

That tightened the game to 9-7, but Stanford added insurance in the bottom half of the inning with a Milleville single, Seawell walk and pinch-hit RBI single by freshman Toby Gerhart.  The Cardinal could have had more, loading the bases after Taylor was hit by a pitch, but Sorgi struck out looking on a questionable 2-2 pitch.

Stanford's runs in the bottom of the fifth came from a first-pitch lead-off double by Ratliff and a double stretched to a triple by Taylor, who then scored on a Sorgi groundout.  It was power at the plate again in the sixth, when junior Joey August hit a two-run home run after Seawell was hit by a pitch.

It is not surprising to see the ball hit hard on a Sunday game, when college baseball teams pit typically their weakest pitchers against the aluminum bat.  It is still noteworthy that the Cardinal rapped eight extra-base hits on the day (four doubles, two triples and two home runs).  Every starter save Phelps hit in the batting order, and six Cardinal recorded multi-hit games: August (2-for-5, 1 R, 2 RBI), Domaracki (2-for-4, 1 R), Ratliff (2-for-5, 1 R, 1 RBI), Taylor (3-for-4, 2 R, 1 RBI), Sorgi (2-for-5, 1 RBI) and Milleville (2-for-4, 2 R, 1 RBI).

That is the kind of production Stanford fans are used to seeing at Sunken Diamond, and though a little late in the season, it is warming to see somebody like Taylor turn it around.  The 6'6" 260-pound junior has carried a world of expectations since his high school days, but he has spent most of this season batting below .300.  In his last nine games, he has now recorded three or more hits four times.  Taylor today is batting .320.  His on-base percentage is .379, and he is slugging .541.

"The last 15 or 20 games, he's really swung the bat well," praises Marquess.  "He's continuing to do that and play good defense.  He's really coming into his own as a complete player, so I'm really proud of him."

"Honestly, if you paid attention to my entire career here and in high school, I've been a second-half of the year player," Taylor explains.  "As it gets hotter and I get into a groove, I start to do a little bit better.  I get better with time and make adjustments."

"I feel pretty good right now," the junior right fielder offers.  "I feel comfortable.  Honestly, I'm just trying to do whatever we can to win as many of these last eight games now as we can.  We're playing for pride and the tradition of Stanford right now.  We're trying to do whatever we can to win series and be competitive."

Stanford has one Pac-10 series remaining in two weeks at USC, and the Cardinal have to fight to avoid finishing in last place in the conference, where they currently stand at 6-15.  Stanford will have to nearly win out the remainder of the schedule to avoid finishing the season with an overall losing record, currently sitting at 21-27.

"You don't want to roll over," says Taylor.  "Right now, there is a tendency to do that.  We just have too much tradition.  Also, this is stuff you build on for next year.  There will be a lot of guys coming back.  If you continue to work hard and you plug, it might equate to four or five more wins next season for a great year."

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