Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Coming Together

I was at the baseball game at Tony Gwynn Stadium between Kansas and SDSU.  This two game series is one of those quiet, unnoticed but truly important moments in the Aztecs' season.  The Mountain West (as we saw in hoops) has its identity issues in every sport, but in baseball the conference is seen as weak.  It's hard to get more than one team in from the conference UNLESS a team really schedules well and shows well against tough non-conference competition.  For the last couple of years Tony Gwynn has really been trying to beef up the schedule and test his team against top schools from the West and Midwest.  Last year the Aztecs showed well against USD but lost to teams such as Missouri, Long Beach State, Oregon State and Arizona.  Instead of getting a winning streak revving the Aztecs started 11-10 and finished 31-28. 

This year's start looked very similar to last year, with SDSU beating USD four out of five but struggling against Cal State Fullerton, Kansas State and Pacific.  At 7-6, the Aztecs started last week with their most important win of the year to date, the 6-run 9th inning comeback at UCLA.  Then, last weekend, all three starters shined on the mound as State swept UNLV.  Which brings us back to last night, and Kansas in town for two.  10-5 on the season, with a strong schedule and some impressive wins, the Jayhawks stood between a possible big time winning streak and another stop-and-start pattern for the Aztecs.

Ryan O'Sullivan got the start for SDSU, the freshman coming in from shortstop to make his 4th start on the mound.  Thanks to the aggressive schedule, Ryan has faced nothing but tough teams in his midweek starts, and he came in to last night with an 0-1 record and a 7.04 ERA, by far the highest on the staff.  Ryan has been solid at short but has struggled badly at the plate the last couple weeks, and you could sense he was hungry to contribute to a win.  

For the first time last night, it really came together for O'Sullivan on the mound.  He had a sinking, moving fastball working and retired 12 in a row.  Ryan also showed a solid slider to right-handers and an offspeed breaking ball.  O'Sullivan really has an aggressive, bulldog attitude while he is pitching and the infield fed off his energy and made good plays behind him.  

Cory Vaughn continued his tear in the 2nd inning by taking an outside fastball deep to right-center field for a wall ball.  Most would have had a double on the play but with his speed Vaughn easily made 3rd base.  That same speed revealed itself on the next play, when Mitch Blackburn hit a reasonably hard grounder to short.  Vaughn was moving on contact and the shortstop had no play but first base.  1-0 Aztecs.

Kansas freshman right-hander Lee Ridenhour was spectacular from there.  With a mean fastball and filthy slider, Ridenhour struck out 8 over 7 innings with just three hits allowed.  The Aztecs wouldn't even sniff another scoring threat on the night.  Which left SDSU hanging on for dear life in the late innings.

In the 7th Easton Gust booted a routine grounder for a leadoff error, and after a sacrifice O'Sullivan issued his first walk of the night.  The 7th was uncharted territory for the freshman, but Tony Gwynn stuck with him against Kansas' best hitter, third baseman Tony Thompson.  The sophomore slugger had a 23-game hitting streak active, 1 away from tying the Kansas record.  It looked like he had it on a deep launch to right field, which was carrying over Cory Vaughn's head.  But Cory continued his star performance by somehow catching up to the ball, leaping, and grabbing the ball high over his head on the dead run toward the wall.  Both Kansas baserunners were off and running and Vaughn was able to throw back in and double off the lead runner to end the inning.  A spectacular play!

Chase Thomas came on in relief to start the 8th but walked the leadoff man, and Andrew Leary relieved him.  The right-hander has become an unsung hero on the Aztecs, so I will sing his praises here.  Even after Brandon Meredith made a shaky decision trying to throw for the lead runner on a bunt and failing, Leary came back to strike out three in a row and get the game to the 9th. 

On came Addison Reed, who was a perfect 6-for-6 in saves so far this year.  A leadoff single was followed by a sacrifice and a strikeout.  Then, it was the big hitter Thompson at the plate for one more chance.  Reed got ahead 0-2, Thompson fouled one off, and then Reed lost his grip on a slider and hit Thompson in the back.  Corey Lytle followed with a worm-burner ground ball to 2nd, but Mitch Blackburn booted the play for an error (after making several good plays on the night).  Now with the bases loaded, it was nervous time, but Reed knucked down and got left fielder Nick Faunce to pop out and preserve a 1-0 win.

SDSU has now won 5 straight and 7 of 8, and at 12-6 on the season, the team is coming together and winning games they didn't use to win.  Tonight's game now looms as an even bigger chance, as a win would link up this win streak to the next conference home series against BYU, with the Aztecs' top pitchers coming back around in the rotation.  The game will be on tonight at 6pm.  

A couple of other notes...

  • Why are WBC games as long as World Series games?  I set up last night's Puerto Rico-USA game to tape for 4 hours and still came up short for a 9-inning game.  Grr.  Yay for the USA comeback in the 9th, though.  Now Peavy will get one more chance for redemption, at his favorite stadium in which to pitch, Dodger Stadium.  
  • A great first step to redemption for the Aztecs' men last night against Weber State.  Chris was there so I'll leave the analysis to him, but if SDSU can get past their 2nd round opponent and a pretend home court at USD on Friday, they could possibly earn a rematch with St. Mary's and a chance to exorcise one of their demons from this season.


  1. I would be curious as to what your thoughts are on Peavy's struggles in big games. I'm a huge fan of Peavy, but there is something about the playoffs and these big games in the WBC that cause him to struggle big time.


    Keep up the good work.

  2. I wrote a post about this topic before, check it out...

    Honestly, I have some theories, but I'm trying to avoid drawing broad parallels out of a handful of games.

  3. Craig

    Good Post. I didn't know the outcome when I had read that was suspenseful! 1 run holding up in a college game?!

    Aztecs to Omaha!