It's no Rembrandt, but Beavers paint a victory
CORVALLIS -- At 5-9 and 200 pounds, Jake Rodriguez is far from an imposing physical specimen on the baseball diamond.
Nobody stood taller, though, in Oregon State's 4-3 victory over Arizona State Sunday at Goss Stadium than the junior catcher.
Rodriguez had the only hit in a three-run fourth inning and made several big defensive plays -- including gunning down a baserunner at third base to end the game -- as the third-ranked Beavers (21-2 overall, 5-1 in Pac-12 play) claimed the weekend series against the 20th-ranked Sun Devils (13-7, 2-4).
"It was an odd way for the game to end," said OSU's Max Engelbrekt, who picked up the victory with 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief pitching. "But, it was an odd game to begin with."
There were 18 walks and five hit batsmen as pitchers struggled to find the plate -- though at times, it seemed as the plate had no corners to the eyes of umpire Jason Venzon. There were 23 runners left on base, 12 by the Sun Devils.
Oregon State managed only four singles -- three in the first inning -- after being no-hit by Arizona State freshman Ryan Kellogg in a 4-0 defeat on Saturday. But the Beavers were still able to pull out the victory that left them in a three-way tie with Oregon and UCLA atop the conference standings.
"That's what the Pac-12 is all about right there," Rodriguez said. "That was a fight to the end. It was awesome. What a great game."
Suspenseful, at least.
The parade of base on balls (nine by each team) and hit-by-pitches (four by ASU hurlers) led to a 3-hour, 15-minute marathon that was lacking in aesthetics.
"Pretty bad on both teams' parts," Rodriguez said. "But we stayed after it. We played defense. We struggled a little bit, but we got guys out in key situations. It wasn't pretty, but somehow we got the job done."
It came down to a gem of a recovery play by Rodriguez in the top of the ninth with Oregon State clinging to a 4-3 lead.
After Arizona State's Max Rossiter reached on an infield single to open the inning, pinch runner Johnny Sewald was sacrificed to second base. With two outs and Sewald still on second, Scott Schultz's low pitch bounced in front of the plate. The ball was blocked by Rodriguez and ricocheted off Venzon. Sewald motored for third base, but Rodriguez was able to scoop up the ball and nail the runner on a bang-bang play.
"I was really surprised" Sewald tried to advance, Rodriguez said. "I had a lot of time to throw and get him. It was good."
Rodriguez had also thrown out ASU's Nathaniel Causey trying to steal second base in the second inning. But the catcher's biggest play came after the Sun Devils had rallied from a 4-1 deficit with two runs in the fifth and threatened for more.
With one out and the bases loaded, Jake Peavyhouse flew out to medium right-field. Leadoff hitter Kasey Coffman -- a 6-4, 220-pound center fielder -- tagged up and barreled for home. Rightfielder Dylan Davis' one-hop throw arrived simultaneously with Coffman a few steps in front of the plate. Rodriguez applied the tag and somehow held on for the third out to the delight of the Goss denizens.
"He's a pretty big guy," Rodriguez said of Coffman. "Dylan threw the ball up the line a little bit, but I was able to stay in there and got him right before he hit me. I was fortunate to hang on.
"That was huge for us. It kind of shut their dugout up a little bit and got the momentum back on our side."
Were the Sun Devils doing a lot of yapping?
"They tend to talk a lot," Rodriguez said. "It's what they've done forever. But we like to talk a little bit, too.
"After that play, though, they got quiet, and the crowd was really into it today."
Pat Casey has grown accustomed to Rodriguez stepping up in the clutch.
"Jake's a tough guy," the OSU coach said. "He plays the game with a lot of emotion. Sometimes that helps him; sometimes that hurts him a little bit. But Jake is one of our leaders."
Oregon State won two of three against Arizona State despite getting only 13 hits in the series -- nine in Friday's 5-0 victory spawned by Matt Boyd's one-hitter.
On Sunday, the Beavers scored their three runs in the fourth, batting around with just Rodriguez's hit but four walks and a hit batsman. They escaped the ASU fifth giving up only two runs despite an embarrassing error when center fielder Max Gordon collided with left fielder Michael Conforto on a bases-loaded fly ball that was Conforto's all the way, allowing a run to score.
"When you find ways to win games and you're not playing well, that's a sign of good character and quality kids," Casey said. "We did not play well, and we won.
"When you pitch as well as Matty pitched on Friday night and swing the bats as well as we did against a real arm (in that game), you expect to play a little better than we did (the next two games). But we won today. This is a tough league to win games in. We'll take it."
The Beavers took the series without the services of All-Pac-12 shortstop Tyler Smith, who was hit with a pitch on his left hand against San Francisco on March 12. After Smith played in pain in last weekend's sweep at Arizona, additional X-rays showed a hairline fracture in the hand. The senior standout will miss a three-game series at the University of San Diego that begins Thursday, with the hope he will be able to return for a series at UCLA from April 5-7.
His teammates showed determination and resolve on Sunday, snatching victory on a day when all systems were not go.
"Every game is huge in the Pac-12," Rodriguez said. "We dropped one (Saturday), which was not good. We had to get this one today."