Stanford salvages Cal series

Brent Milleville better get an insurance policy for his bat. His 450-foot fifth-inning grand slam to left could have knocked out a lightpole and left a crater on the field hockey turf. Instead, it gave Stanford an 8-5 victory over Cal and kept the Card one game behind Arizona State in the Pac-10, with two series to go.

Stanford 8, California 5

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Stanford 000 340 10X 8 8 1

Brent Milleville's fifth-inning grand slam catapulted the No. 6 Cardinal (29-18-2, 11-7 Pac-10) to an 8-5 victory over No. 16 Cal (32-16-2, 11-10). The Cardinal stand alone in second, one game behind Arizona State (38-9, 12-6) in the chase for its first Pac-10 title since 2004.

"It's huge to pick up this one and not get swept," Milleville said. "Since I've been here, we haven't really competed for a Pac-10 Championship, so it's really exciting."

Both the Cardinal and the Sun Devils have trips to Arizona and Washington remaining. After hosting Santa Clara at 6 p.m. tomorrow, Stanford visits the Wildcats (34-15, 8-10) next weekend and closes the season at the Huskies (30-17, 9-8) May 23-25.

It was 3-3 in the fifth when leftfielder Joey August, second baseman Colin Walsh and catcher Jason Castro hit consecutive one-out singles to load the bases for Milleville, batting cleanup.

And the junior first baseman delivered, crushing a 2-1 inside fastball perhaps 450 feet. The bomb landed amongst the lightpoles illuminating the field hockey turf, laughably clearing the 335-foot leftfield wall. Milleville's homer, his seventh of the season and second career grand slam, was fair by just ten feet -- but that was enough to earn Stanford its first win in four tries this season against Cal.

"I was looking for a fastball, and he threw it inside, where I can hit it," Milleville said. "I thought it was foul for sure and kind of stood in the box and watched it -- I feel bad about that. I knew it was far enough and thought it was a foul ball, but it ended up, right at the last second, going fair."

Sophomore Jeffrey Inman (7-2) gave up five runs, three earned in 6.2 innings for the win. Cal freshman righty Kevin Miller (6-1) earned the loss after surrendering the bomb to Milleville, but southpaw starter Chris Petrini was pulled after just 3.1 innings with three runs to his name. Freshman righty Drew Storen earned his fifth save, allowing just two hits and no earned runs over the final 2.1 innings.

After a scoreless sixth, both teams scored on errors in the seventh. First, Walsh misplayed a routine two-out grounder from David Cooper, letting Charlie Cutler and Brian Guinn score from second and third, respectively, to pull Cal within 7-5. Stanford's defense had Barry-Bonds shifted deep and left for Cooper, Cal's strongest hitter, so that Walsh was positioned in shallow rightfield. That Cooper's grounder changed trajectory as it moved from the infield dirt to the outfield grass may have contributed to the error.

Then, with Jason Castro on base after a triple and two outs in the bottom of the inning, Randy Molina just made contact with the tip of his bat, spinning a grounder to Jeff Kobernus. The slice might have confused Cal's third baseman, who couldn't field it cleanly as Molina scored for the final 8-5 margin.

No. 8 hitter Zach Jones walked and advanced to third on a Joey August single in the bottom of the eighth, but a Walsh groundout to the pitcher on a suicide squeeze ended the inning. Kobernus stole second with two out in the ninth, but Cutler flied out to August in left as Stanford snapped a three-game losing streak.

"Everyone was really excited," Milleville said. "It's been a real tough week. We didn't have many things go our way. But that's how baseball is. Winning this game was huge for us for the rest of the season."

Cal started the scoring in the second, with Kobernus and Guinn doubles driving in three runs. Stanford drew to a 3-3 tie in the fourth, with Molina and Sean Ratliff singles and a Cord Phelps sac fly each scoring a run.

The Card's offensive consistency Sunday was a welcome change from struggles at the top of the lineup in losses yesterday, when the two through four slots went 0-for-10, and Friday, when the six through nine hitters were 1-for-15. Today, the one through seven slots in the batting order all produced hits. The balance was timely, as the Cardinal gave up as many runs as it had all season in a Pac-10 win.

"This year has had ups-and-downs offensively," Milleville acknowledged. "We're a very good offensive team and still haven't really shown it. If our bats get hot, it's hard to stop us. Hitting's hard sometimes. You put too much pressure on yourself to do too much, like in a lot of sports, and when you tense up, it's not as easy. Hitting's a hard thing."

Luckily for Stanford, hitting wasn't too hard for Milleville, as he led the Card to a Senior Day victory.

"Senior Day is an emotional day, especially for seniors, but for juniors too," Milleville said. "We've played with them for three years now, and some of them are our best friends. It's good to send them off on high note, but more important is getting momentum for the last couple Pac-10 series."

So while Stanford heads to Tucson next weekend, expect a lot of eyes to be cast northward, as Arizona State visits Seattle. Stanford knows some help wouldn't hurt in the Pac-10 title hunt.

"Winning the Pac-10 is definitely a goal preseason," Milleville said. "That's always our goal. All of us knew we had the talent to go out and get that Pac-10 title. That's one of our top goals."

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