Beaver Blitz

OMAHA–If you weren’t paying close attention, you might have mistaken the guys in the white, baggy uniforms for the guys in the gray, baggy uniforms on Monday night, and not just because Oregon State’s retro-style white unis were inspired by Arizona State’s similar togs. The Beavers might be known for their pitching and defense, but on this night they turned the tables on the nation’s highest-scoring team, pounding out 18 hits in a 12-6 thumping of the Sun Devils.

“I’ve been saying all year long we needed to get punched in the mouth, and I think it’s clear we got punched in the mouth tonight,” ASU coach Pat Murphy said. “I don’t want to discredit Oregon State at all, but that’s as bad of baseball as we’ve played all year, for six innings. I’m disappointed it happened today.”

In 2006, Oregon State opened its second straight CWS trip on the wrong end of a lopsided game like this, losing 11-1 against Miami. The Beavers channeled their humiliation into determination and won four straight games en route to their first national championship, so they know how hard it is to run through the loser’s bracket. A year later, Oregon State is sitting pretty after two games in Omaha. The Beavers became the first defending champion to start the CWS 2-0 since Louisiana State in 1998.

“I don’t think playing every day affects our club, but having a day off is going to be relaxing,” Beavers shortstop Darwin Barney said.

OSU’s 2006 CWS run was defined by pitchers churning out heroic efforts on short rest; this time, the Beavers will get a day off to rest their mostly fresh arms. Tonight might have been largely about Oregon State’s offensive explosion, but don’t forget about the stellar start by junior righthander Mike Stutes (10-4), who held the nation’s best offense to three hits over six-plus innings. He left with the bases loaded in the seventh, and reliever Blake Keitzman allowed all three inherited runners to score in the four-run inning, but Stutes still finished with just four runs on his ledger–not bad against Arizona State.

“We needed to get a quality start out of Mike against a very good offensive club, and we did,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said.

Fellow 2006 CWS hero Joe Paterson followed Keitzman with another strong relief appearance, extracting Oregon State from the sticky seventh by inducing a sacrifice fly and a pop-up, after entering with the bases still loaded. Then he got the last six outs of the game via strikeouts.

Oregon State’s defense also stood out in its big offensive night. Barney repeatedly dazzled at shortstop, at one point flashing a big grin after flashing some serious leather–and leaping ability–on a C.J. Retherford line drive in the third inning.

Even on a day when OSU scored in each of the first six innings and tied a season high with 18 hits, it remained true to its pitching-and-defense character. The Beavers allowed just 3.8 runs per game this year, fifth-fewest in the nation, and they weren’t about to let Arizona State slug its way back from an 11-run deficit. That cushion was built early on, as the Beavers manufactured two runs in the first and broke the game open with four more in the second, capped by Mike Lissman’s three-run homer to left field.
The Sun Devils, meanwhile, showed some fight in that four-run seventh inning, which could give them a little jolt of confidence heading into Tuesday’s elimination game against UC Irvine at 6 p.m. Lefthander Brian Flores (11-2), who started Monday but was replaced by lefty Josh Satow after just one inning, is slated to start against UCI freshman Eric Pettis. The Sun Devils are undoubtedly hoping the 1 p.m. game between North Carolina and Louisville is over quickly so they don’t have to sit around waiting to play like they did Monday while Irvine and Cal State Fullerton fought it out for five hours and 40 minutes.

“It’s tough for us, we were hurried to get ready,” ASU second baseman Eric Sogard said. “Before the game we were all sitting on the grass under a tree just waiting for that thing to end. Once we got to the field, we had like 20 minutes to get ready to go, so it was a little rough. I don’t think we were really there mentally by the first inning.”

The Beavers did a better job handling the wait, and that proved to be a major factor in the game. Preparation and mental toughness through adverse circumstances have become hallmarks for Oregon State over the last couple of years, and their experience loomed large against an Arizona State team that is not nearly as battle-hardened. As Murphy said, his team had not been punched in the mouth all year. So when the longest game in College World Series history delayed the start of the OSU-ASU tilt, the Beavers rolled with the punches, and the Sun Devils rolled over.
“I think a lot of our guys just lounged around in the stands and watched the game, not necessarily getting tense about our game, not wasting energy, just having a good time,” Barney said. “If Arizona State couldn’t do that, then I guess, good for us.”