ASU unable to complete sweep thanks to six-run UA ninth

As originally published on, here.

(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/Cronkite Sports)

Coming into the night, a mere three of Ryan Burr’s 24 2/3 innings of work were 1-2-3 innings. Considering this alone, it would be easy to say that his strand rate finally caught up to him when he allowed a decisive two-run home run to Bobby Dalbec, after allowing the leadoff runner to reach, in the ninth inning.

But when considering Burr’s stranglehold on the status of elite closer, his other-worldly strikeout numbers and head coach Tracy Smith’s unwavering confidence in him, it’s more reasonable to chalk No. 4 Arizona State’s 7-2 loss to Arizona on Monday night as simply “baseball.”

Tasked with protecting a one-run lead, Burr was summoned into the game in the eighth inning to record a six-out save.

Burr worked through the eighth inning unscathed, but ultimately yielded a moonshot two-run home run on a hanging slider to Arizona cleanup hitter Bobby Dalbec in the ninth. The Wildcats then batted around in the inning, pounding out four more runs (for a total of six in the inning), and managed to avoid what would have been ASU’s second sweep of the season and first against Arizona since 2009.

“That’s a fluke thing,” Smith said. “I would bet anything I have, that’ll never happen again like that. One of the best closers, if not the best closer in the country, but this is a game that will be good to you and then it’ll kick you in a heartbeat. One hundred out of a hundred times, there’s nobody I’d rather have in that situation. It’s just baseball.”

“I think I tried to throw it a little too hard,” Burr said in reference to the fateful slider to Dalbec. “When that happens your body doesn’t let you throw it like it should be thrown and the ball elevates. Dalbec’s a great hitter and he did what he’s supposed to do with that pitch.”

Along with his decisive blast in the ninth, Dalbec also crushed a no-doubter to right-center in the second inning to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead and to support his cause on the mound.

Normally the Wildcat closer and making his first start of the season, Dalbec shined on the bump too, relying heavily on a get-ahead fastball—which ultimately notched him 14 of 19 possible first-pitch strikes.

All told, the right-handed sophomore threw 4 1/3 innings, struck out four, allowed five hits and two walks—both of which came when he ran out of gas and lost command in the fifth.

It was in this stage that ASU had a chance to capitalize on Dalbec’s inefficiencies, but with the bases loaded and one out, it was unable to push any runs across.

“I’d summarize that in a statement: That’s baseball. I don’t think anybody was going up there trying to fail. It’s magnified because it’s a 2-1 game in the ninth, but we didn’t do anything offensively all night. Who knows, you stick a couple of hits in there when we have bases loaded that even with everything they did—they batted around and then some in the ninth—you still win the game. But would’ve, should’ve, could’ve is something you could say after every baseball game,” Smith said.

The Sun Devils were able to avenge their fundamental shortcomings in the next frame as the disciplined at-bats of second baseman David Greer—who pushed catcher Brian Serven over to third with a groundout—and first baseman Joey Bielek—who plated Serven with a gritty two-strike sac-fly to center field—tied the game at one run apiece.

ASU pounced again in the seventh after Serven was granted a free pass with the bases loaded, which scored Andrew Snow and gave the Sun Devils a 2-1 lead.

The lead proved insufficient, however, after the Wildcats six-run outburst in the ninth off the relief trio of Burr, Jordan Aboites and David Graybill.

“I just call that a perfect storm of what could have gone wrong did go wrong,” Burr said. “(I) didn’t make the pitches that I needed to and obviously they’re a good hitting team and they hammered my mistakes.

Perhaps overshadowed by the crushing defeat was the masterful outing from ASU starter Brett Lilek. His seven innings matched his longest outing of the season, and in total, the left-hander allowed three hits, one earned run, three walks and struck out five.

Though the outing for Lilek was eerily similar to his outing against Stanford two starts ago (in which he went seven innings, and allowed three hits, one earned run and three walks), Monday night’s start featured him delivering 10 fewer pitches than he did in his March 29 outing—a welcome sight for both him and Tracy Smith, as he strives to be more economical in the number of pitches he throws.

“I think that’s really the philosophy with all the guys is to be aggressive in the strike zone and tonight he was. When he’s got confidence and he’s got his stuff rolling, he’s as good as there is in the country, there’s no secret about that. But this game’s all about consistency so I think the big step for him is to back it up and do it again… If we get that type of performance out of him on Sundays, if he performs like that he may not be on Sunday too long.”

On the heels of a heartbreaking defeat, yet also a fifth straight conference series win, ASU will voyage up to Seattle this weekend for a three-game series against Washington.

Both Smith and Burr oozed eagerness and confidence in putting Monday’s loss behind them and preparing for their next matchup.

“It’s a tough loss; it’s a bad loss; it’s an ugly loss, but at the end of the day it’s a loss,” Smith said. “That’s going to happen in this game. I’m sure the guys will wrestle in their beds a little bit tonight but tomorrow you have to put it out of your head. We have to get ready for Friday… There’s no chinks in our armor. We’re going to walk out of this building tonight—we’re good, we know we’re good.

“We’re a confident bunch of kids,” Burr said. “I liked what he (Smith) said tonight. We can either let this pull us apart or bring us together. I think we’re really going to come together after a loss like that and I’m excited for Friday night. I feel bad for the Huskies because they have a bunch of pissed off kids coming towards them. We’re looking forward to that.”

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