Friday, April 17, 2009

Strasburg Clutch As Aztecs Blank Lobos 1-0

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO--Nothing could stop Stephen Strasburg on Friday night at Isotopes Stadium.  Not the University of New Mexico Lobos.  Not the frigid weather.  Not even the pack of student cheerleaders who formed a picket line in front of the dugout in the middle of the 7th inning, preventing Strasburg from taking the mound for a few minutes.  (OK, they were performing a routine, but it sure looked like a picket line).  And by the end, the Lobos and their fans were howling in dismay as the top-hitting team in the NCAA was blanked on their home field by college baseball's best pitcher.

In a tense, nail-biting game that started with 42 degree temps and randomly mixed mist and freezing rain, Strasburg pitched his first complete game shutout of the season as the 15th ranked Aztecs (26-13, 9-4) edged the Lobos (28-11, 8-5) 1-0.  Brandon Meredith launched a solo homerun deep into the left-field picnic section to lead off the top of the 4th, and that lone run held up to win thanks to Strasburg's brilliance, grit, and determination.  Throwing 129 pitches, Strasburg allowed 7 hits, walked one and struck out 14.  In doing so, he passed Mike Erb (SDSU '85-'87) for 2nd place on the all-time SDSU strikeout list (301 career K's), and trails Bruce Billings by just three for the all-time school record (304).  

But Strasburg's dominance was tested multiple times on Friday, and the Aztecs' ace responded each time with his biggest and best pitches.  In the 5th, miscommunication on a foul popup between Meredith and Erik Castro (1 for 3, 8 game hitting streak) allowed a catchable ball to drop off the bat of Lobos' left fielder Adam Courcha.  The next pitch was ripped well over 400 feet to left-center field for a leadoff triple.  Strasburg knuckled down and retired Daniel Gonzalez on a weak grounder to third before striking out Mike Brownstein (leading Divison I in hits) and Max Willett to end the inning.  Counting those two punchouts, Strasburg struck out 7 of 8 batters to cruise into the 8th.  

Meanwhile, Lobos' senior left-hander John Hesketh mixed and matched a sinker and slider to keep the Aztecs' bats as cold as the weather.  Hesketh allowed just Meredith's homer in 7 innings, striking out six while giving up 5 hits and 3 walks over 7 innings.  2nd year New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham then ran out his four top relievers to get the next six outs, offering Strasburg no margin for error.  

In the bottom of the 8th, Strasburg was tested once again, as Gonzalez lined a fastball to the opposite field for a leadoff single.  After a sacrifice and a groundout, DH Ryan Honeycutt, who entered the night batting .464 on the season, lined a two-strike fastball to left field for a base hit.  Even though the ball got right to Brandon Decker in left field, Gonzalez was waved home by third-base coach Ken Jacome, and Decker's two-hop throw beat Gonzalez by several feet to home, where Erik Castro blocked home plate and completed the 7-2 putout to end the inning.  

The last gasp for the Lobos came in the 9th when cleanup man Rafael Neda delivered a clean single to left field to put the leadoff man and tying run on base.  After pinch-running, Lobos' coach Birmingham decided to give up a precious out by sacrifice once again, moving the runner Monger into scoring position.  Monger then stole third, once again putting the tying run 90 feet away with less than two outs.  But with his pitch count rising, Strasburg dug deep for a finishing kick.  He whiffed all-MWC outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez on a slider in the dirt, and then got first baseman Justin Howard to come around on another slider to end the game.  

The game ended with celebrating Aztecs and chirping Lobos.  Several New Mexico players came out of the Lobos' dugout to bark at the SDSU players as they were exchanging handshakes and high fives in the center of the diamond.  Coaches and players from the Aztecs responded and while there was no confrontation to speak of, the intensity is likely to be cranked up even a notch higher for Saturday's 5pm (PDT) game.  Jon Berger will throw for San Diego State, and I'll have the radio play-by-play at  

NOTES: the Aztecs dodged a jam and an injury scare in the bottom of the 2nd inning.  With two outs and runners at 1st and 2nd, Courcha hit a flyball into foul territory down the right field line.  Cory Vaughn came in and gloved the ball, but failed to call off 2nd baseman Mitch Blackburn, who wound up colliding with Vaughn and knocking the ball loose.  Blackburn then catapulted over the 3-foot fence in right and fell into the empty first row of the stands, landing hard on concrete.  Blackburn was shaken up for a few moments but continued in the game without further incident.  The folks at Isotope Stadium might consider putting up a guardrail for the players to avoid catastrophe...New Mexico entered the game with a .376(!!) team average, leading the NCAA in average, hits, doubles, and triples...they had never scored fewer than 2 runs in a game this season before getting shut out by Strasburg...Pat Colwell ended an 0-13 skid with a double in the 7th...the 15th ranked Aztecs improved to 11-2 on the road this season.  

1 comment:

  1. Good write-up, Craig. Sounds like a great game to have been a part of.

    Wow! 129 Pitches! Its good to see SS dig deep and get it done...that shutout will definitely improve his draft status (lol).

    I'll try to catch game 2 tonight.