Defense And Pitching Dominate In Doubleheader Sweep Of California

April 14, 2003

By Brian Gomez,

BERKELEY, Calif. -- On a blustery day when the skies over Evans Diamond changed quite frequently, Arizona State's baseball team established a consistent force with its steady defense.

The No. 4-ranked Sun Devils scored a majority of their runs Sunday thanks to their opposition's miscues, but they didn't provide California with an opportunity to do the same. Whether it was diving grabs or slick stops, ASU made more than enough defensive plays to cruise to a 6-0 victory over the Golden Bears for its second win in a three-game sweep.

'I was proud of our guys,' said Sun Devil head coach Pat Murphy, whose team has a .971 fielding percentage through 45 games this season. 'There was a lot of good stuff. Hopefully they don't get complacent.'

ASU senior starter Ben Thurmond needed all the help he could get Sunday when his pitching was far from perfect. Sun Devil sophomore shortstop Dustin Pedroia provided him with some aid in the bottom of the first inning by making an athletic play that thwarted California's scoring threat.

With two outs and runners at the corners, Pedroia dashed across the diamond and snagged senior center fielder Ben Conley's softly-hit ground ball that looked as if it was bound to sneak through. ASU sophomore infielder Jeff Larish caught Pedroia's cleanly-thrown strike to first base and stepped on the bag to help Thurmond get out unscathed.

'With the weather, it's hard to hit and it's not like you're going to score 17 runs or get 20 hits or something like that,' Pedroia said. 'You've got to do the little things to win games, like making sac bunts. Playing defense is a key, too.'

After doing most of his damage Friday with his bat in ASU's 11-3 victory over California, freshman center fielder Ryan Bosch made his presence felt again Sunday, this time with his glove. Just before Thurmond issued consecutive walks in the third inning, Bosch made a diving catch to rob junior third baseman Conor Jackson of a hit. Thurmond got more help later in the frame when junior second baseman Steve Garrabrants turned a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.

The Sun Devils didn't let up defensively in the fourth inning with senior right-hander Beau Vaughan on to pitch in relief of Thurmond. Junior right fielder Andre Ethier corralled junior outfielder Brian Horwitz's line drive on the run, before Pedroia hauled in sophomore left fielder Justin Nelson's blooper on the strength of a diving spear.

'It kind of got in on that guy's hands and the wind was blowing back in, so I just had to dive,' Pedroia said. 'If he had short-hopped it, I wouldn't have been able to throw him out. I think he was getting down the line pretty good.'

Garrabrants came up big again in the ensuing frame to bail Vaughan out of a potential jam after California sophomore second baseman David Nicholson reached on a double down the left-field line. When leaning toward the middle of the infield to keep Nicholson close at second base, Garrabrants hustled over directly behind the bag, snared sophomore first baseman James Holder's sharply-hit ground ball and fired to Larish for the inning's final out.

An inning after loading the bases without allowing a run, Vaughan looked like he was in for more trouble in the eighth until ASU marked its second of four double plays on the day. Sun Devil senior third baseman Dennis Wyrick was responsible for the first leg of it with a strike to Garrabrants at second base that nailed junior infielder Jeff Dragicevich. Garrabrants then flung the ball to Larish, who stepped on the bag to get Horwitz for the last out of the inning.

'The defense was good all weekend,' Murphy said. 'That's a big difference. You've got to play defense.'

Two days after Pedroia and Bosch both had stellar afternoons in their return to the Bay Area, junior designated hitter Nick Walsh excelled close to home. In only his sixth and seventh starts of the season, Walsh reached base nine times in 10 at-bats Sunday. He went 6-for-8 with three RBIs and two runs scored when playing about 30 miles south of his hometown of Alamo, Calif.

'You try not to think about numbers, but it's always there,' said Walsh, whose batting average soared from .238 to .320 after a doubleheader in which he recorded his first multi-hit game since 2001. 'That's baseball. Baseball is all about numbers.'

Walsh reached base five times in as many at-bats in the first game of Sunday's twinbill. He had three singles, including one in the sixth inning that scored Garrabrants.

After a short break between games, Walsh picked up where he left off with two singles and a double to the left-center field gap in ASU's 10-1 whipping of the Golden Bears. His second-inning single to right field brought home Wyrick and his fielder's choice in the seventh plated sophomore pinch-hitter Frank Mesa.

'I feel like I've been hitting the ball really well all season,' Walsh said. 'I've just been going right at people. I knew that if I kept my same attitude they would start falling. Luckily, they did today.'

When not batting in the leadoff spot for only the second time this season in Sunday's opener, Pedroia suffered through an 0-for-4 effort that brought his 13-game hitting streak to an end.

But Pedroia redeemed himself in the second tilt of a doubleheader by going 1-for-3 with a career-high three RBIs as he again hit in the No. 3 position. His two-run double to the left-center field gap that brought home Walsh and freshman left fielder Travis Buck capped another five-run second inning for the Sun Devils.

'Whatever helps the team, it doesn't matter,' Pedroia said. 'Nick Walsh did an awesome job leading off. It was unbelievable.'

The Sun Devils are known as a team that sometimes scraps and claws their way to runs, but they were handed a load of freebies in Sunday's opener. ASU tallied five of its six runs in the second inning via four walks and two errors. Walsh also got hit by a pitch and Wyrick reached on a bunt single. Bosch was the only Sun Devil to not got on base the first time around the order, however, his sacrifice fly to center field scored Ethier from third.

'You can look at it as the runs came out of their mistakes, but you just keep playing the game,' Murphy said.

Largely overshadowed in ASU's offensive explosion against California was its superb pitching that provided the backbone for its first Pac-10 road sweep since 2001.

The Sun Devils didn't allow a single run in 15 innings Sunday. Freshman pinch-hitter Jeremy Burchett finally put the Golden Bears on the board in the seventh by grounding into a double play that scored Conley from third.

Vaughan and senior right-hander Jered Liebeck provided a bulk of the damage. Vaughan fanned three batters and allowed three hits in relief of Thurmond, who relinquished only two hits in three innings when battling through early control problems. Liebeck also struck out three Golden Bears and scattered four hits in six innings, before relievers Carlos Arguello, Brett Bordes and Ryan Schroyer combined to give up one run on six hits in the final three frames.

'We completely trust our pitching staff,' Walsh said. 'We know if we put up five to six runs we've got a good shot.'

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