This blog post is a little late for a couple of reasons. First was the four-hour, five-minute slugfest between Arizona State and Vanderbilt, which the Commodores won 7-6 when pinch-runner Jonathan White scored from third base on a wild pitch by Sun Devils reliever Ike Davis–on an intentional walk. Then I was sidetracked by a conversation with Baylor assistant coach Mitch Thompson and Rice assistant David Pierce, whose teams play each other in the third game tonight. Those two gentlemen had a unique perspective on the wild finish between ASU and Vandy; a Baylor-Rice game in the 2001 regionals was decided in the exact same fashion. Zane Carlson’s wild pitch on an intentional walk allowed Rice to score the winning run and advance to super-regionals. Thompson made a great point: “If that’s going to happen to you, much better for it to happen in the first weekend of the year than the last.”
White had come in to pinch run for DH Matt Meinsgasner, who started the 10th-inning rally with a triple to the left-center field gap. The walk-off wild pitch capped an exciting, back-and-forth game that also served as Vandy third baseman Pedro Alvarez’ personal showcase. Before the game, I asked Arizona State coach Pat Murphy if he planned to challenge Alvarez, and he said that he’s been around long enough to have gone up against sluggers like Troy Glaus and J.D. Drew, implying that he’s not intimidated by Alvarez (and by extension that he planned to attack him). But he added that he had great respect for Alvarez. Well, the Sun Devils kept Alvarez in check for the first six innings, but in the seventh, with ASU clinging to a 5-4 lead, Alvarez came up with a runner on first base. Sun Devils lefthander Jeff Urlaub didn’t give him anything good to hit, but it didn’t matter. Alvarez pulled a pitch near his ankles down the right field line and off the foul pole for a go-ahead two-run homer.
“I believe it was a fastball,” Alvarez said. “That was a good pitch, I don’t know how I got metal on it. I was too caught up in the moment to even think about it, I was just trying to run. Luckily it hit the foul pole.”
Then in the ninth he knocked a fastball over the outer half down the left-field line, one-hopping the wall for a stand-up double. He was stranded on third base, but he impressed onlooking scouts to the point that several were overheard reminiscing about seeing Alvarez in high school and wishing they had drafted and signed him.
As for Arizona State, the Sun Devils once again got off to a furious start, as the first four batters reached base in a three-run first inning. But Vandy answered with two in the third, highlighted by an RBI double by center fielder David Macias. ASU stretched its lead to 5-3 heading into Vanderbilt’s three-run seventh, which included another Macias double to left field.
“They’re a really good team, I knew right from the start it was going to be a battle,” Alvarez said. “They came out in the first inning and punched us in the gut, and it took us a while to answer back, but we never lost hope, we never thought that we were going to lose. We found a way, we came out on the fortunate end.”
Here are some assorted thoughts from the early game:
* Macias is a good little player, flashing excellent speed on the basepaths and the ability to turn on fastballs over the inner half. He also made a great diving catch on Davis’ eighth-inning sacrifice fly, which tied the game at six but could have done more damage if not for Macias’ tumbling catch. Sun Devils second baseman Eric Sogard is also a good little player; he reached base five times Saturday on three hits and a pair of walks.
* Murphy is a funny guy, but you knew that already. I overheard an exchange between the notoriously hot-tempered Murphy and a couple of umpires in the dugout just before the game started.
“Hey, do I have a bad reputation with you guys?” Murphy asked them.
“No, why would you say that?” one of them replied.
“Because I’m trying to change, really I am.”
If you believe that, then I’ve got some sunscreen to sell you here in Houston.
* Arizona State outfielder Matt Spencer has improved his 2007 draft stock this weekend more than any other player in attendance. Scouts perked up after his big home run yesterday, but Vandy coach Tim Corbin wasn’t scared. When asked before the game how he planned to attack Spencer, he deadpanned, “We’re going to throw it right over the middle of the plate.” Spencer finished 1-for-3 with a walk.
* Vanderbilt senior closer Casey Weathers also caught scouts’ attention Saturday in his two innings of perfect relief. Weathers was already on the draft radar after his dominating summer in the Alaska League, but he was lights out against the Sun Devils, sitting at 95-96 and touching 97 repeatedly with his fastball, while throwing a better slider than he did yesterday. That pitch helped him rack up three strikeouts.