By Mike Lemaire
PALO ALTO, Calif.—In a game between two teams known for their timely hitting and talented pitching, it was only fitting that the deciding play would be a bases-clearing wild pitch that would spur Stanford to a comeback victory.
Trailing 4-1 entering the top of the sixth inning, The Cardinal scored three runs on the same wild pitch to tie the score. Two innings later, shortstop Kenny Diekroeger gave his team its first lead with an RBI double down the left-field line and freshman reliever A.J. Vanegas slammed the door on the exciting 5-4 win, striking out eight in 3.2 innings, including the final five Waves of the game.
Desperately looking for runs entering that pivotal top half of the sixth inning, Stanford sandwiched a hits batsman and two singles around an Austin Wilson strikeout, loading the bases for the scuffling Tyler Gaffney. But before Gaffney could play hero, Pepperdine starter Scott Frazier bounced a breaking ball that skipped under the glove of catcher Miles Silverstein.
Brian Ragira scored easily and headed for the dugout just as Silverstein was wheeling around to throw the ball to Frazier who was covering home plate. Seeing Ragira in his throwing lane, Silverstein tried to stop the throw, but the ball squirted free from his hands and in the commotion that followed, Ragira unwittingly kicked the ball into his own dugout. After some discussion, the umpires got together and awarded all three runners home plate.
After the game, Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said the umpires had made the correct call, but that didn’t do anything to diminish the sting of losing a crucial game on a fluke play.
“It’s easy to tolerate losses if you just get beat flat out,” Rodriguez said. “But it’s hard for our guys to swallow that.”
The play ruined an excellent effort from Frazier, who easily out-dueled Stanford starter Brett Mooneyham, using his electric fastball and darting slider to keep the potent Cardinal lineup from doing too much damage.
Although he wasn’t necessarily dominant as he allowed nine hits and struck out five in 7.2 innings, it was exactly the type of start the Pepperdine coaching staff was hoping they would get from him when they convinced the highly touted California native to pass on professional baseball to play in Malibu.
Aside from a long home run off the batter’s eye in center field from Ragira, the Cardinal wasn’t able to hit Frazier hard until Diekroeger’s double in the eighth inning when Frazier was practically gassed. But even after he left, Frazier may still have been looking at a victory if it wasn’t for the insanity of the wild pitch.
“That’s why he was a high draft pick a couple years ago and that’s why I think he is going to be a high draft pick again next year,” Rodriguez said of Frazier’s performance. “He is a tough competitor who wants to get after it. He just had a curveball bounce over his catcher’s head for some bad luck. But I’ll tell you what; I will go to war with that young man.”
It looked as if Pepperdine was on its way to an upset when it took advantage of a throwing error from Mooneyham on a bunt to chase the big lefthander from the game. Waves left fielder Bryan Langlois greeted reliever Dean McArdle with a two-run double to make the score 4-0, and they were threatening for more.
Instead McArdle shut them down that inning and recorded another 2.1 scoreless innings for good measure before giving way to Vanegas. The sophomore allowed just one hit and struck out eight while giving his team a chance to rally for the win.
“Unbelievable job by A.J. obviously,” Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. “They had some great opportunities and he just won some big spots with some big strikeouts. He had great stuff tonight.”