For a good chunk of the season, the Arizona Wildcats' defense was the strong point of this team.
On Tuesday in Tempe, it cost them the game.
A couple of misplays early gave ASU a 4-0 lead in the first two innings, and the Sun Devils never looked back, taking the first of five games between the two teams by a score of 7-5.
The positive story from this game on the Arizona (20-13, 5-7 Pac-12) side was the return of Tyler Crawford. It had been hinted that the fifth-year senior and lone player remaining from the 2012 team would be back on Tuesday, and that happened in the fifth.
"Taking the mound, the competitive mindset just kicks in," Crawford explained of his emotions when taking the mound for the first time in over two years. "It wasn't too crazy. I actually had a conversation with the equipment manager before the game and I told him that I've been pitching at ASU since before Pac-12 Networks was a thing, so it didn't feel too crazy, but it was definitely good to get out there."
"The first pitch I made was unbelievable," he added about his bullpen warmup before coming in. "Once that kind of happened, the rest just clicked and I felt good."
Matt Hartman handed the pitching goggles off to Crawford with two runners on and one out in the inning.
"I somehow managed to lose my prescription glasses, and Hartman has very similar ones, so yeah, I'm actually sharing Hartman's glasses right now," Crawford joked of having to take the glasses from his predecessor on the mound. "I don't have enough time left here to spend the money (on my own) if we're being honest."
This was the first time Crawford had taken a college mound since April 11th, 2014, when he struggled against UCLA. In the last two years and one day, he's had bouts with severe gastritis, Tommy John surgery, and setbacks with both.
But here he was.
The GrandCrawther walked the first batter he faced, which loaded the bases. A grounder to second brought home a Sun Devil run.
But then with his high-60s breaking ball, Crawford struck out Chris Beall to end the threat.
"I was just excited I executed the pitch so it was good," Crawford said of getting the strikeout to end the season debut. "I got a lot of handshakes, lot of high-fives, lots of hugs, some congratulations. It's obviously been a really long time for me so it was good."
"My teammates have been fantastic in this whole process."
That was pretty much the only positive on the night though.
Freshman Cody Deason would get the start on the mound for Arizona, but failed to record an out.
After the first three Sun Devil hitters reached base, Jay Johnson went to Cameron Ming with the bases loaded. A single to left-center and a sac fly to deep center made it 2-0 ASU (18-12, 4-8 Pac-12) early. It was a nice job by Ming to keep it from being any worse than it was.
Arizona's defense would cost them two more runs in the second. An error by JJ Matijevic (scored a hit), combined with a misthrow on a pickoff attempt allowed the Sun Devils to advance their lead to 4-0 after two frames.
On the flip side, ASU's defense prevented a potentially big third inning for the Wildcats:
After this, Cody Ramer hit a liner to shortstop, which allowed Colby Woodmansee to double off Matijevic at second to end the inning.
Another defensive miscue in the fourth gave ASU its fifth run of the night. With a runner on third, Matijevic received a short chopper and went home with it. Unfortunately, as Cesar Salazar went to apply the tag, the ball came out of his glove.
The Wildcats were able to respond right away to this run. Bobby Dalbec led the frame off with a walk. After stealing second on a botched hit-and-run, Dalbec scored after a couple of groundouts to second base.
Arizona scored another in the sixth, but it should have been more. A Zach Gibbons walk loaded the bases with one down. Alfonso Rivas hit a run-scoring ground out, but Dalbec struck out to strand runners at second and third.
Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time gameshttps://t.co/kIvvAeKwTq— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) April 13, 2016
David Greer made it 7-2 ASU in the bottom half of the sixth, jacking a solo shot off of Austin Rubick.
The third run of the night for Arizona came in the top of the eighth. Again, another wasted opportunity, as the Wildcats got two runners in scoring position with just one out. Gibbons grounded out to drive home Ramer. Rivas followed that with a long flyout to center field to end the mini-threat.
In the ninth, Matijevic picked up the Wildcats' first hit with a runner in scoring position to make it 7-4. A two-out Ramer double to left-center brought home Matijevic to draw the Cats within two and bring the tying run to the plate.
Jared Oliva lined out to right to end the rally and the game though.
For the night, the Wildcats went 1-of-8 with two outs in the inning, and just 4-for-21 with runners on base. ASU has pitched well this year, but those aren't numbers that will win you a lot of games.
Next up for Arizona is Stanford. The Cardinal come to Tucson for a three-game series starting on Friday night. First pitch is scheduled for 6 PM PT.