TEMPE, Ariz–How does a baseball junkie kill time on a Friday night in Phoenix? Simple, go check out some college baseball. My trip to Arizona fortuitously collided with an Arizona State-Long Beach State matchup, so a trip to Tempe was in order.
I was not the only one with a jonesing for some Friday night lights as Long Beach State alums Troy Tulowitzki and Cesar Ramos jetted over from Rockies and Padres camp to check out the action.
Ramos and Tulowitizki remain close with the team and worked out with the Dirtbags before they had to report to their respective camps. Tulowitzki serves as a somewhat of a defacto infield coach and I asked him to compare himself as a sophomore to current stud sophomore shortstop Danny Espinosa.
“He switch-hits, which is great but he is a little better from the left side. Though I saw him in a series against Texas earlier in the year and he looked just as good from the right side. We are a little different size-wise. I brought a little more power and he brings a little bit more of a well-rounded offensive game.”
Though he looks like a lock to be the Rockies’™ starting shortstop, Tulowitzki downplayed the certainty and talked about winning the job in camp. Ramos has more modest goals for 2007.
“I’™m hoping to go to Double-A because I pitched at high A all last year” the lefthander said. “We moved (our Double-A affiliate) from Mobile to San Antonio and from what I have heard that is a very good thing.”
The Texas League is not nearly as forgiving for pitchers as the Southern League so he is probably talking about the quality of life and not park factors.
As for the game, it was all about Erik Sogard. The Arizona State second baseman homered in the first off of Long Beach starter Vance Worley to give the Sun Devils a 1-0 lead and added an RBI single in the fourth to give them 5-4 lead. Then, after the Sun Devils fell behind 6-5, the junior added a two-run bomb in the bottom of the eighth to put the Sun Devils ahead for good and finished 4-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs.
Until that point, Long Beach did an impressive job of staying in the game by executing the little things as their bats remained quiet.
This was typified when Long Beach right fielder Robert Perry walked to lead off the top of the fourth inning. First baseman Brandon Godfrey bunted, and when Arizona State starting pitcher Josh Satow’™s throw to first went high, Perry advanced to third and Long Beach had runners at the corners. DH Kyle Morgan walked and up came Espinosa with the bases loaded and no outs. Satow hit him with a 0-1 fastball and the game was tied. Third baseman Jason Tweedy bounced out to second to give the Dirtbags a 2-1 lead. Catcher Kip Masuda followed with a perfectly executed suicide squeeze to drive in Godfrey and left fielder Ted Pattock poked one to left to make it 4-1 Dirtbags.
Of the four Long Beach runs three were unearned and there was nary a hard hit ball in the inning. This inning illustrates why bunting plays such a prominent role in the college game. The bottom line is that defenses are just not that consistent. When you put the ball in play, you force your opponent to make plays and mistakes happen. Satow was painting corners for the first four innings, but one inaccurate throw to first opened the floodgates for Long Beach.
Dirtbag starter Vance Worley was in danger all night and he gave back four runs in the bottom of the frame to make it 5-4 Sun Devils.
Long Beach entered the game hitting .266 as a team and looked like a team hitting .266 for the first five innings. They got back-to-back RBI singles from Perry and Godfrey in the sixth to take back the lead, and their bats looked alive.
That lead looked like it would hold up under the strong right arm of reliever Andrew Liebel, but Sogard made him pay before he could finish his 4 2/3 innings of relief unscathed.
Sun Devils reliever Mike Leake proved the true fireman of the night as he earned the win in relief, allowing two runs in 4 2/3 innings to improve to 4-1. He made it dicey by walking two men with two outs in the ninth before Godfrey blooped one between the mound and first. A miscommunication between Leake and first baseman Brett Wallace caused the ball to drop. Chris Nelson stopped at third base, but Perry never stopped running from first and was gunned down at third by Wallace to end a wild game in a wild manner.
Being in Arizona, it only seems fitting to channel Dennis Green: Both these teams are who we thought they were. Long Beach is a grind it out club that executes like a typical bunch of Dirtbags while the Sun Devils have plenty of slugging. Despite some Devil defensive mishaps, It was the slugging that won out tonight.