IRVINE — The Virginia Cavaliers did something to San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg today that no one else could do this season.
They beat him.
No. 7-ranked Virginia scored two early runs off Strasburg on the way to a 5-1 victory over the Aztecs in the opening game of the NCAA Regional hosted by UC Irvine.
Strasburg (13-1), his fastball sitting at 97 mph much of the game, struck out 15 and did not walk a batter over seven innings. But he needed two innings to get dialed in. The Aztecs trailed 2-0 by that point and couldn’t muster the offense against Virginia starter Robert Morey (3-0) to make a game of it.
The Aztecs (40-22) meet the loser of tonight’s UC Irvine-Fresno State game on Saturday at 4 p.m. in an elimination game).
With one out in the first inning, Virginia’s Phil Gosselin swung at the first pitch he saw from Strasburg and launched it over the left-field wall and against the Anteater Ballpark scoreboard.
The Cavaliers (44-12-1) added another run in the second inning when Steven Proscia scored with two outs on an infield single to second base. Proscia led off the inning with a single and had moved to third base on two wild pitches by Strasburg.
SDSU made it 2-1 in the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Chris Wilson, but the Cavaliers expanded the lead to 5-1 with three runs (two on a homer by Steven Proscia) in the bottom of the eighth.
It was the first loss for Strasburg since a 1-0 defeat to Utah in the 2008 Mountain West Conference Tournament.
NCAA TOURNAMENT — IRVINE REGIONAL
SAN DIEGO STATE (40-21) VS. VIRGINIA (43-12-1)
IRVINE — The 2009 NCAA Tournament gets underway here under a canopy of clouds with temperatures in the mid-60s. UC Irvine has fewer than 1,000 fixed seats, so bleachers were brought in to accommodate the larger crowd. The gathering is dominated with red and black, with perhaps two-thirds of the crowd here in support of the Aztecs. That's no surprise. SDSU fans had about a 90-mile drive while their Virginia counterparts had a 2,550-mile flight. Cavaliers fans — perhaps 50 strong — are adjacent to the team's dugout along the third-base line.
SDSU coach Tony Gwynn announced this morning that ace Stephen Strasburg (13-0, 1.24 ERA) would indeed start against Virginia, which is countering with Robert Morey (2-0. 3.25 ERA).
HERE WE GO
1ST INNING — The Aztecs get runners to second and third with two outs, but Virginia starter Robert Morey strikes out Cory Vaughn swinging on a 2-2 pitch to get out of it. SDSU's Stephen Strasburg strides to the mound in the bottom of the inning and starts with a strikeout of leadoff hitter Jarett Parker. Phil Gosselin jolts the crowd a moment later, however, when he launches the first pitch from Strasburg over the left-field wall and off the scoreboard for a 1-0 lead. It's shocking in a "Hey, you're not supposed to be able to do that off him" kind of way. But it is the fourth HR allowed by Strasburg this season. Virginia's Danny Hultzen and Dan Grovatt follow the homer with singles, but Strasburg gets a strikeout of John Hicks and a fly ball from Tyler Cannon to end the inning. Strasburg tops out at 97 mph in the first inning.
2ND INNING — Morey allows a two-out walk to East Gust, but nothing comes off it. Strasburg makes his own trouble in the bottom of the inning when he throws two wild pitches after Steen Proscia singled to lead off the inning. Strasburg followed with two strikeouts, but Proscia scored to make it 2-0 when Parker beat out a single to second base that Mitch Blackburn took too much time on. That would have ended the inning. It continues and is prolonged further when Strasburg fails to field Gosselin's infield tapper for an error that puts runners at first and third. Strasburg finally strikes out Hultzen to end the inning. He is already at 50 pitches after just two innings.
3RD INNING — Pat Colwell gets things started with a single up the middle, but Morey keeps him there by retiring the next three hitters. The Aztecs have gone down meekly to this point, giving the crowd virtually nothing to get excited about. Strasburg's slow start also has prevented a buzz from building. In the bottom of the third, Strasburg looks more impressive with two strikeouts among three straight hitters retired.
Many in the crowd — including the press box — who haven't seen much of Strasburg this season wonder if he's had a game where he hasn't been dominate from the first pitch. He has. He allowed a leadoff home run at TCU and allowed two runs in the first inning at Utah in a pair of Mountain West Conference games. On both occasions, the opponents were getting on his fastball early. So Strasburg went to the offspeed stuff — much of it thrown in the dirt — and started mowing them down. He allowed just one run over the next seven innings in the game against TCU and pitched six shutout innings against Utah after the two-run first. We'll see if that pattern continues here. The key is whether the Aztecs offense can muster anything. Strasburg's last loss was 1-0 to Utah in the 2008 MWC Tournament.
4TH INNING — Back-to-back singles by Chris Wilson and Gust put runners at the corners with two outs, but Morey gets Ryan O'Sullivan on a tapper back to the mound to end the threat.
5TH INNING — Torres coaxes a one-out walk from Morey, but nothing comes of it. Strasburg gets two strikeouts wrapped around a single to give him 10 strikeouts for the game.
6TH INNING — Morey pitches in and out of trouble. He allows a double to Mitch Blackburn and hits Easton Gust in the foot, but it's all wrapped arund three strikeouts. Strasburg allows an infield single to Proscia with two outs, but gets Franco Valdes swinging to end the inning.
7TH INNING — Virginia coach Brian O'Connor goes to the bullpen and brings in Tyler Wilson to replace Morey and its more of the same for the Aztecs. Wilson retires the side in order, two of the hitters on strikeouts. That's 11 strikeouts for SDSU, including four by freshman first baseman Brandon Meredith. Strasburg's pitch counts move past 120 in the inning, but he doesn't appear any worse for the wear. He strikes out the side, giving him 15 for the game.
8TH INNING — The Aztecs finally get something going when Wilson issues a one-out walk to Vaughn and Blackburn follows with a double down the left-field line to put runners at second and third. Wilson hits a sacrifice fly to center field to bring home Vaughn and make it 2-1. Blackburn moves to third on the play, but the Aztecs can't get him home. Virginia goes to the bullpen again and brings in Matt Packer, who gets out Gust.
Andrew Leary runs in from the SDSU bullpen, meaning Strasburg's day is done.
STRASBURG'S LINE — 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 B, 1 SO. His ERA rises to 1.32 while running his season strikeout total to 195 (with 19 BB) in 109 innings.
Leary wraps a couple of fly outs around a single, but then he gives up a two-run homer to left field to Proscia that makes it 4-1. Virginia adds another run after Chase Thomas replaces Leary, making it 5-1 on a single by Parker.
9TH INNING — Virginia closer Kevin Arico came on, struck out O'Sullivan, retired Pat Colwell on a soft liner to second base and got Torres on a grounder to second to end the game.