PULLMAN – It would seem when you play the top-ranked college baseball team in the nation, a team that’s won 27 of its first 28 games, you would need to be perfect to win.
Washington State wasn’t perfect Friday night in the opener of its three-game Pac-10 series with No. 1 Arizona State. Far from it.
But the Cougars didn’t need to be in a 6-5 win. They just needed to be decent in one area: putting together a rally.
Their third of the night came in the bottom of the ninth, consisted of a looping double down the right-field line, a bunt and a pinch-hit single. It was enough to break a tie and lift WSU to the victory before 715 at Bailey-Brayton Field.
“They’re just resilient,” WSU coach Donnie Marbut said when asked about the Cougars’ ninth comeback win this season. “We’ve played in a lot of tight games … and we’re going to stay with it.”
After trailing 2-0 and 5-4, the Cougars (16-10, 2-2 Pac-10) tied the game in the seventh when Garry Kuykendall – wearing No. 47 because his usual 24 went missing – took the first pitch from reliever Mitchell Lambson – wearing No. 77 because he was missing his usual 40 – off the top of the right-field fence, scoring Cody Bartlett from first.
WSU left-handed relievers Paris Shewey and Adam Conley limited the Sun Devils (5-2 Pac-10) to one base runner from there, with Conley getting the win and raising his record to 3-1.
But Lambson, a lefty who came in with a 1.48 earned-run average and a 3-0 record, also kept the Cougars at bay. Until the ninth.
Matt Argyropoulos, a right-handed-hitting third baseman who already had one hit and had taken one away from ASU with his glove, led off the inning expecting something hard from Lambson.
“I was looking for a fastball and he ended up throwing a change-up,” Argyropoulos said, “and I just stayed through it long enough and it fell in.”
The 180-foot looper hit about 5 feet fair, a bit like a Tiger Woods wedge, and Argyropoulos outran Kole Calhoun’s throw to second. Jay Ponciano did his job, moving Argyropoulos to third with a sacrifice bunt. First-year ASU coach Tim Esmay went to his closer, Jordan Swagerty, to face pinch-hitter Patrick Claussen.
“Hunt the fastball,” Marbut told Claussen before the at-bat. He did.
Swagerty, perfect in eight save chances with 25 strikeouts in 19 innings, brought his mid-90s fastball. It went back through the middle even quicker.
“I thought a first-pitch fastball was my best bet,” the left-handed-hitting Claussen said.
Marbut felt there was only one reason Claussen even had a chance to go hunting: WSU starter Chad Arnold.
“The bullpen was great, but the guy was Chad,” Marbut said. “You spot them two and we throw a ball away in the first inning, guys would melt, and next thing you know it would be 8-0. But Chad buckled down and made pitches when we needed him to.”
The Sun Devils scored twice in the first, helped by a game-opening error on a routine ground ball.
The Cougars rallied with four runs in the bottom of the first – ASU’s Zack MacPhee’s two-out error made three of Seth Blair’s runs unearned.
The Sun Devils scored three runs in the fifth when Arnold gave up back-to-back doubles and then made an error with a 2-2 change-up, leaving it up in the zone. MacPhee got it up in the jet stream to right for a two-run home run, giving him 39 RBIs.
But in between the first and fifth, Arnold was tough, helped by two double plays and three defensive gems, two by right fielder Derek Jones.
The teams will play again at 2 p.m. today before concluding the three-game, Mom’s Weekend series at noon Sunday.