Baseball Team On Fire!

On Friday night, Stanford played its strongest game of the nascent season, routing Cal State Fullerton 12-5 at Sunken Diamond. The's Daniel Novinson kicks off a season of baseball coverage, bringing you some sights, sounds and thoughts from Friday night's laugher, which kicked off a three-game sweep of the Titans. Note: Apologies from the Editor for not getting this up earlier.

In A Nutshell: Stanford 12, Cal-State Fullerton 5

CSF (3-2): 100 002 200 

Stanford (4-2): 540 020 01X

The Heroes: Junior lefthanded pitcher Jeremy Bleich (five runs, three earned, seven hits allowed, four Ks in 6.1 innings), senior first baseman Randy Molina (2-of-3, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB) 

Tough Day at the Ballpark: No one (thankfully). 

Key Stretch: Molina's three-run homer, his career first, helped Stanford score nine runs over the first two innings. CSF never threatened again.

The Pitching: I don't know whether to credit my presence, the women's volleyball team's (looking good behind the home dugout) for their best performance to-date in this 4-2 season. Maybe we should credit Cal-State Fullerton, as Stanford's now won 16 of their last 17 at home against the Titans. The night's biggest performance came from junior lefty Jeremy Bleich (2-0), who allowed just three earned runs in 6.1 innings of work, and none in his first five innings. CSF touched Bleich for two runs in the sixth, off four singles and a sacrifice fly, and righthanded pitcher Austin Yount let his runner score after he left in the seventh. (Bleich's fielding error paved the way for CSF's other run, off a first-inning single.) As Bleich threw six scoreless innings in the season-opening 17-7 pantsing of Nebraska, Stanford fans now have a reason to believe their lefty's junior season will be unlike his first two. Bleich went just 7-12 with a 4.81 ERA over the 2006 and 2007 campaigns, with his second season markedly worst than his first. But Bleich's confidence was obvious in a post-game chat: "I just established my fastball early and my off-speed stuff was good," he said. "They're real good hitters and so I tried to keep them off-balance."

The Hitting: On the offensive end, first baseman Randy Molina's three-run homer and Joey Ratliff's RBI triple gave Stanford a four-run second inning and a 9-1 lead they would not relinquish. In the first, leftfielder Joey August's double, three singles and two walks combined for a five-run inning. Unlike defensively, where Bleich ruled the day, hitting was more of a team effort, with no one Cardinal accounting for more than two of its ten hits. Molina's star shone brightest, as it should after the senior's first career homer. He'd worked on developing power in the offseason and it showed. "Summer ball was all about hitting the ball out of the yard," he said. "I hit four home runs this summer and it carried forward in the fall and winter and still has carried in the spring."

The Miscellany: We'll be charitable and say the stands were half-full. [Yup, official word is right under 50 percent, 1,521 tickets distributed in a 4,000-seat stadium.] Not bad for a February game. Not bad either for a team that's unexpectedly stubbed its toe early this season, dropping the middle contest of the season-opening series with Nebraska (17-7, 2-9, 4-2) and losing its last two to Saint Mary's (4-2) and Nevada (4-2). Stanford hosts the Titans Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m., in its last home games until March 21.

The Quotes: 

Randy Molina 

On his homer...

"I was up there, two strikes, and knew it was going to be a curveball, and so I took a good swing. I just wanted to get it to the outfield and score runs. My swing's feeling good, it's just carried through summer ball."

On Bleich's performance...

 "Jeremy's off-speed stuff is ridiculous. When he has command, he's pretty unhittable. We got him a good lead and some confidence. He did the same thing at Nebraska. I hope it shows the year he's going to have."

On staying hot in the series...

"If we [hitters] can build on this, no problem. With the pitching we have, we feel we can stop them. We're fine if we can get hitting."

I ask about his first career homer... 

"I just wish it was earlier in my career. But I didn't have many at-bats last year, and I wasn't about that sophomore year."

I ask about him training for power over the summer...

"Summer ball was all about hitting the ball out of the yard. I hit four home runs this summer and it carried forward in the fall and winter and still has carried in the spring."

Jeremy Bleich 

I ask about when he knew he was going to have a good day... 

"I just established my fastball early and my off-speed stuff was good. They're real good hitters and so I tried to keep them off-balance."

I ask whether he feels he's on the verge of a breakthrough junior year...

"Sure, I've definitely grown up and feel better physically and mentally. My off-speed stuff's better, my fastball's better, and mentally, if something happens, now I'm done with it and can deal.

Mark Marquess 

I ask about the offensive balance... 

We did this in Nebraska too. Here, Molina had five RBI and in two swings we have a 9-1 lead in two innings. Jeremy got tired sitting through a couple of those innings, but any time you give him an eight-run lead, you're in a position to win. It's a good win for him.

I ask about Bleich's maturation...

"He's got an improved fastball, a better change-up, and his curve has more bite. Combine that with a good mental makeup."

Weekend Update: The Cardinal (6-2) swept the CS Fullerton series after holding off a Titan rally in a convincing 11-7 win on Saturday and then closing out a terrific weekend with a dramatic 6-5 win on Sunday! Zach Jones' RBI double with one away in the bottom of the ninth brought Jeff Whitlow home for the victory. Amazingly, Stanford has now won 18 of the last 19 games played against Fullerton at Sunken Diamond.


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