Thursday, May 14, 2009

Strasburg improves to 12-0 as SDSU routs Utah

Utah stunned Stephen Strasburg with two runs in the first inning — with a walk, a triple and an infield single — but it was all Aztecs thereafter as San Diego State scored 11 unanswered runs for an 11-2 Mountain West Conference victory over the Utes in a game played before 1,685 at Lindquist Field in Ogden, Utah.

Strasburg (12-0) remains unbeaten, allowing six hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts over seven innings. Strasburg's ERA rises a tad to 1.34. He increases his national lead in strikeouts to 174, against 18 walks, in 94.1 innings pitched. Strasburg's fastball touched 98 mph, but he got most of his strikeouts tonight with his slider, much as he did in last year's 23-strikeout game against the Utes. Strasburg wasn't nearly as dominating as he has been this season, but he got better as the game went on and was tough when he had to be. In the fourth inning, he strands a runner at third base with no outs. In the sixth, he strands runners at second and third with no outs. In the seventh, he strikes out the side.

Strasburg is now one win away from equaling the SDSU record of 13 wins set by Bill Blount in 1983. Strasburg will have an opportunity to match the record in next week's Mountain West Conference Tournament at TCU.

Catcher Erik Castro's two-run homer in the fifth inning gave the Aztecs a 4-2 lead and they never looked back on the way to their sixth straight win. SDSU (36-18, 14-8 MWC) drew even with BYU for second place in the conference. The Aztecs must win their next two games against the Utes to assure a second-place finish. Lose one of the games and BYU will finish percentage points ahead of the Aztecs for second. New Mexico also could pass SDSU in the standings. The top two teams in the MWC receive first-round byes in the tournament. The tournament champion receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.

SDSU set a record for season wins (36) during the Tony Gwynn era and the victory moved Gwynn over .500 in his career (209-208) for the first time since the 2005 season. The Aztecs' victory total is just four shy of national leaders LSU and Coastal Carolina.

The Aztecs are trying to position themselves for an at-large berth should they miss out on the automatic. They came into the series with an RPI of 38. Anything below 45 usually means a team can breathe easy. Sweeping Utah would get SDSU to 38 wins, but it also will cost them in RPI since the Utes are so low (128). If SDSU can get to 40 wins during the MWC Tournament, they should be fine. Reaching the tournament finals would be even better.

SDSU is aiming for its first postseason appearance since 1991. SDSU's 2000 team won the MWC Tournament, but it was the first year of the conference, no automatic berth was available and the Aztecs were left out.

Bids to host an NCAA regional or super regional are due tomorrow. SDSU officials have said they will bid, although it is a longshot for the Aztecs to host. It appears the West Coast will get three bids and they are expected to be awarded to No. 1-ranked UC Irvine, No. 3-ranked Arizona State and No. 5-ranked Cal State Fullerton.


1ST INNING — SDSU loaded the bases with one out, but the Aztecs weren't able to make anything of the opportunity when Cory Vaughn hit into an inning-ending double play. Strasburg, who is walking fewer than two batters a game this season, walks the first batter he faces — Utah leadoff hitter Corey Shimada. Shimada is bunted to second before teammate Nick Kuroczko triples to make it 1-0. C.J. Cron then follows with an infield single to second base and it's 2-0 Utes. It is the first runs scored in 17 innings against Strasburg, who had pitched 21 straight innings on the road without allowing a run. It is the first time the Aztecs have trailed with Strasburg on the mound in 64 innings. Strasburg finally gets out of the inning with a groundout and his first strikeout of the game.

2ND INNING — SDSU's Mitch Blackburn leads off the inning with a single off Utah starter Brian Budrow. Blackburn is caught stealing, however. Then Easton Gust strikes out and Brandon Decker flies out. So much for that. Let's see what Strasburg has as he returns to the mound. The 6-foot-5 right-hander seems more himself, wrapping strikeouts of Cooper Blanc and Michael Beltran around Green's groundout to third base.

3RD INNING — Ryan O'Sullivan opens the inning by looking at strike three from Budrow, who then walks Pat Colwell. The walk quickly comes back to bite him when Jomel Torres doubles to right-center and Colwell comes around to score and make it 2-1. Torres moves to third base on a wild pitch, but Brandon Meredith strikes out and so does Erik Castro and that's it for the Aztecs. Strasburg, whose velocity has topped out at 98 mph to this point, allows a one-out single to Tyler Yagi but gets a double play to get out of the inning.

4TH INNING — The Aztecs get Budrow on the ropes again, putting Vaughn and Blackburn at second and third on a pair of singles and a sacrifice bunt by Gust. Decker grounds out to second base to score Vaughn and make it 2-2 before Budrow can get out of the inning. Strasburg walks the tightrope in the bottom of the inning, allowing a leadoff double to Cron, who moves to third on a wild pitch. Strasburg rises to the challenge as he has all season, however, striking out Devin Walker and Austin Jones before Blanc flies out to right to strand Cron at third.

5TH INNING — Colwell singles to center to put the leadoff hitter on for SDSU for the fourth time in five innings. The Aztecs are on the verge of squandering another opportunity when Castro hits a two-out pitch to left-center for his 10th homer of the season. It's the third straight game in which Castro has homered and ties him with Vaughn for the team lead in homers. More importantly, it gives SDSU a 4-2 lead. Strasburg retires the side in order for just the second time in five innings.

6TH INNING — SDSU goes down in order on three straight infield grounders. Strasburg gets Yagi looking at a slider for the first out of the inning. It is Strasburg's seventh strikeout, all of them coming on sliders according to SDSU play-by-play man Chris Ello. The slider is what Strasburg used effectively against the Utes in last year's 23-strikeout game. Trouble lurks again when Kuroczko singles to center and Cron singles to left (his third hit in the game off Strasburg). Both runners move up on a wild pitch, but Strasburg bows his neck again by retiring Walker on a fly to left and Jones on a fly to center to end the inning.

7TH INNING — O'Sullivan leads off with a walk, bringing Utah coach Bill Kinneberg out to the mound to ask Budrow for the ball. Greg Krause takes over for the Utes. Krause doesn't exactly strike fear in a hitter since they're batting .309 off him. Colwell flies out to right field before Torres singles to right to put runners at the corners. The Aztecs make it 5-2 when Meredith's groundout to shortstop scores O'Sullivan. Torres moves to second on the play, which leaves first base open. The bag is quickly filled when Castro is intentionally walked. Castro homered in his last at-bat, but the Utes would rather face Vaughn? He has more power than anyone on the club, although he's gone eight games since his last homer. Krause keeps Vaughn in the yard, but the sophomore hits a hanging curveball for an RBI single to right. The hit ends an 0-for-7 stretch with runners in scoring position and gives the Aztecs a 6-2 lead.

Strasburg comes out in the bottom of the inning better than ever. It must have been the rousing version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." He strikes out Blanc and Green looking, then gets Beltran swinging to strike out the side for the first time. That's 10 strikeouts now, the 12th time in 13 games that Strasburg has reached double digits in Ks.

8TH INNING — Tyler Anderson replaces Krause on the mound for the Utes and, boy, does he get into trouble. Gust hits a leadoff single and Decker reaches on an error while trying to bunt Gust over. O'Sullivan then advances the runners with a bunt, so Utah intentionally walks Colwell to set up the double play. The Aztecs refuse to cooperate, singles by Torres, Meredith and Castro producing three runs and a 9-2 lead. Reliever Robert Chimpky comes in for Andersen. SDSU adds two more runs before the inning ends to make it 11-2.

The big inning makes it pointless to bring back Strasburg for another inning, especially since he's expected to throw a day early (Wednesday) in next week's MWC Tournament. Kegan Sharp comes on for Strasburg, whose line is 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO. Strasburg is in line to improve to 12-0. His ERA rises slightly to 1.34. He now has 174 strikeouts on the season with 18 walks in 94.1 IP. Sharp looks sharp in the inning, retiring the Utes in order on a strikeout and two infield grounders.

9TH INNING — The Aztecs go quickly, perhaps eager to get this over with secure in victory with a nine-run lead. Sharp finishes off the Utes, getting Blanc swinging at strike three to end the game.


San Diego State opens a three-game series at Utah on Thursday evening needing a three-game sweep to assure the Aztecs of second place in the Mountain West Conference. The top two teams in the regular season receive a first-round bye, saving valuable pitching in the double-elimination tournament being hosted next week by TCU. The tournament winner receives the MWC's automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.

SDSU sends all-Everything right-hander Stephen Strasburg (11-0, 1.28 ERA, 164 SO, 17 BB in 87.1 IP) to the mound against the Utes. Strasburg is coming off last week's no-hitter against Air Force. He struck out 23 batters in a regular-season game last season against Utah. The Utes would probably like to focus more on their 1-0 win over Strasburg and the Aztecs in the MWC Tournament. Utah sends Brian Budrow (4-4, 5.45 ERA) to the mound.

SDSU (35-18, 13-8) enters the series in third place in the MWC, trailing TCU 12-5 (which has three games remaining) and BYU 14-8 (which has completed conference play). The conference standings will be determined by winning percentage because several teams have had games cancelled because of weather. Utah (20-26, 7-14) is in sixth place in the conference.

The game — and series — is being played in Ogden, Utah, at Lindquist Field, home of the Class A Ogden Raptors (Dodgers affiliate). Utah shares it's field in Salt Lake City with the Triple A Salt Lake City Bees (Angels affiliate) and both teams were scheduled to be at home this weekend, so the Utes moved over to Ogden for the series.

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