Oregon Baseball: Large, early lead squandered in late innings as Stanford evens series

The Oregon offense picked up where it left off the night before.

Oregon scored at least one run in each of the first five innings, and recorded 12 hits in that stretch.

With a seven run lead entering the sixth inning, Stanford seemed to figure out Oregon starter Alex Keudell, tagging him for three runs on four hits.

The Ducks went to a newly reconfigured bullpen, without a thought of this game becoming close. But after Kellen Moen and new closer Madison Boer allowed five runs in 3 1/3 innings, the Stanford Cardinal (28-17, 10-10 Pac-10) rallied to tie the game and take the lead in the eighth inning. It was the biggest lead the Ducks have squandered in three years, leading to a 9-8 Stanford victory Saturday at PK Park.

The Ducks (25-24-1, 6-14 Pac-10) looked like two different teams on this day.

"Up until the fifth inning, we were feeling good," junior Danny Pulfer said. "Sixth inning, we get punched in the face. Seventh inning, we get slapped in the mouth. Eighth inning, we just got shot. Story of our season."

After the sixth inning, Stanford had cut the lead to four. With Kellen Moen on in relief, the Ducks would continue to fall apart.

 

With one out and two runners on base, Cardinal third baseman Stephan Piscotty hit a double down the left field line, which cleared the bases. The next batter was first baseman Brian Ragira, who hit a ball to right field, appearing to result in a single. However, a string of shaky defense haunted the Ducks once again.

Freshman Aaron Jones tried to make a diving catch, but the ball would get past him and roll almost to the wall before center fielder Brett Thomas ran it down. Ragira would cruise into third base for a triple.

Boer would come in from the bullpen and strike out the next batter, shortstop Kenny Diekroeger. But Boer wouldn't be as lucky when facing Kenny's brother, Danny Diekroeger.

A single to left field would score Ragira, which tied the game.

Coach George Horton said both the bullpen and defense was responsible for the loss. "Kudos to Stanford. What a great comeback victory for them. They can hit, and they're tough outs, and very unforgiving when you make mistakes. They started to put pressure on us. Alex (Keudell) couldn't stop the. Kellen (Moen) couldn't stop them. (Madison Boer) did fine. It's kind of the story of our entire year."

Lost in the comeback was Oregon's offense, whose bats have found their stride.

Second baseman Danny Pulfer, who went 3-for-4, laced a ball down the third base line on a 0-2 count to leadoff the game. After being sacrificed to third by Brett Thomas, Stefan Sabol would score Pulfer with a line drive single to left field.

The hit parade would only continue, as eight of the nine Ducks hitters would record a hit by the fourth inning.

Even mistakes would find a way of working themselves out--before the sixth inning that is.

Following a single by Pulfer that scored Paul Eshleman and moved J.J. Altobelli to third base in the second inning, Pulfer looked to be picked off first base. Pulfer stayed in the run-down long enough to allow Altobelli to score from third. Pulfer would reach second by diving into the base and away from the outstretched arm of Ragira. Call it a textbook double steal.

That would be the end of a short day for Stanford starting pitcher Danny Sandbrink, who lasted only 1 1/3 innings, while surrendering four earned runs on six hits.

Pulfer, who is 11-for-19 in his last four games, led off the fourth inning with a home run to left field--his first at PK Park

"It's always nice to hit a home run, but it's hard to celebrate personal accomplishments when I feel like this after a 9-8 loss," Pulfer said. "It's bitter sweet."

With the move of starting pitcher Madison Boer to the closer role, Alex Keudell made his appearance on the bump as the Saturday starter. He kept the Cardinal to only one run through the first five innings. But we would finish the game by going 5 2/3 innings, while striking out six and allowing four runs on eight hits.

The Stanford bullpen found a way to throw water on the Ducks' hot bats, as they never got a hit after the fifth inning.

"After they put up the three (in the sixth inning), coach Checketts was kind of joking," Pulfer said. "He walked down the dugout and said, ‘lets hold on, lets hold on,' as if to say we're playing not to lose. And then they tie the game. Nothing changed from my aspect. I was like, ‘hey, great, new ballgame.' I think it was fake excitement. ‘Oh boy, tie game; we get to start over.' And then they took the lead, and it was like, that's it."

After Boer made a successful relief appearance a night earlier, the trouble he ran into during this game had him talking about the difference between the role of starter and reliever.

"It's most fun to pitch with the game on the line, but it's also fun when you have your own game," Boer said. "You get a little more adrenaline when you're closing, and that certainly helps. But it can work against you, too."

Horton said that he doesn't regret the decision to move Boer to the bullpen.

"Maybe we had a better opportunity to win," Horton said of the possibility of Boer starting on Saturday. "But then, maybe we lost last night and won today. Who knows? We're not going to second-guess that. I think it was the right thing to do. In fact, I was feeling pretty good that Madison was lingering out there in the bullpen."

Oregon would have to run the table for any hopes of being selected for regionals. If they hope to do that, this is a loss they have to mentally overcome immediately-as hard as that might me. The mental approach to the game has been one of the downfalls to this season, and now that challenge is greater than it was ever been.

"Really, you just got to let it go," Pulfer said. "We still got a game to win tomorrow. If we don't win tomorrow, we might as well start playing for next year."

Sunday will be Christian Jones' first Pac-10 start of the season. 

Notes

The Ducks have 56 hits in their last four games.

Oregon allowed a season-high tying 15 hits.

This was the eighth time this season Oregon has squandered a lead after seven innings. 

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