During the 2016 postseason, the Arizona Wildcats kind of became known for their eccentric baseball tendencies.
Like two-run squeeze plays.
We hadn’t seen much of that this year, but the two-run suicide squeeze made its grand return in Phoenix on Thursday night as the Wildcats took out the Arizona State Sun Devils 6-5 to open the three-game series.
It happened with the bases loaded in the 7th.
JJ Matijevic actually came up first, but struck out on a 93 MPH fastball from ASU reliever Connor Higgins. Higgins had entered the game with the bases loaded and no one out.
So Alfonso Rivas stepped to the plate, and Jay Johnson gave the squeeze sign.
“I sort of had an idea,” Rivas said about getting that sign. “I think it was a tie game at that point and we need a run right there and a bunt’s easier than getting a basehit, so I was looking for that.”
“Just trying to get the job done on that and stay calm,” Rivas added about his mindset in that spot. “Just keep my composure up there and execute.”
With Louis Boyd and Cal Stevenson breaking from third and second respectively, Rivas dropped the bunt down to the first base side of the mound.
“It’s kinda tough because that guy’s pretty quick to the plate and he was checking me at second to make sure I wasn’t too far off,” Stevenson said, giving his perspective on the play from second base. “So I just wanted to get the best jump I could, see the ball down, and get around to score. There’s not much you can do when a guy’s that quick to the plate. You just kind of have to react and go off your instincts.”
And while ASU was trying to get Rivas out after the perfectly-placed bunt, both Boyd and Stevenson crossed the plate, giving Arizona the 5-3 lead at the time.
“As I’m rounding third I’m watching the pitch the whole way,” Stevenson continued. “Make sure it’s getting down and if he doesn’t get that bunt down at least get to third base if Boyd gets in a rundown.”
The ol' 2-run sac bunt from the Cats! Alfonso Rivas with a great bunt and better base running gets us 2! https://t.co/PtQUuMydpY— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) May 19, 2017
The Wildcats would score another run on a throwing error by the ASU shortstop, extending the lead to three at the seventh inning stretch.
After this game, Arizona is now 13-12 in Pac-12 play, and 34-17 overall. ASU drops to 8-17 in conference and 23-27 overall. The Sun Devils have to win their final five games to avoid their second losing season in program history.
Jay Johnson talkin two-run squeezeОпубліковано AZ Desert Swarm 18 травня 2017 р.
It was an interesting night of Arizona punching and ASU counterpunching throughout the game.
JC Cloney got the start for the Wildcats despite it being a Thursday game, and he wasn’t incredibly sharp, allowing a baserunner in every inning after the first.
But it was the Wildcats that landed the first blow against ASU senior righty Eder Erives.
Rivas singled in Stevenson in the fourth inning to make the score 1-0.
However, with the bases loaded, both Nick Quintana and Cesar Salazar failed to get the ball out of the infield, leaving three Wildcats on and keeping the Sun Devils within one.
This allowed ASU to tie things up in its half of the fourth. Zach Cerbo walked then moved to third on a single by Carter Aldrete.
Andrew Snow then walked to the plate and skied a fly ball deep enough to right to score Cerbo easily and make the score 1-1.
The first time the Wildcats actually drove the ball somewhere came in the fifth.
With two runners on, Matijevic came up and laced a pitch from Erives to right field, hitting off the top of the wall. They both came around to score, giving Arizona a 3-1 lead.
That was Matijevic’s 56th career double, which ties him for the sixth-most in school history with former Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale.
Of course, ASU answered right back. With one down in the bottom of the fifth, Gage Canning smashed a Cloney pitch over the scoreboard in right center for his sixth home run of the season.
Later in the inning, a couple of infield hits and a walk filled the bases with Sun Devils. A Cloney ball in the dirt ricocheted off of Salazar and back to the netting, allowing ASU to tie the game.
Cloney would later strikeout Aldrete looking to end the threat and keep the score tied.
After Arizona was set down in order in the top of the sixth, an error and a sac bunt put a Sun Devil runner on second.
When Cloney reached a 2-2 count against Myles Denson, Jay Johnson took him off the mound and Michael Flynn trotted in from the left field bullpen.
Flynn got the strikeout right away for the second out of the inning.
Canning was then intentionally walked, and Flynn drew a fly ball to center to end the inning and keep the score tied, setting up the deciding top of the seventh.
But just like the first couple of times Arizona plated runs, ASU responded in the seventh, they just didn’t tie it this time.
Cerbo hit a solo home run to straight away center field to cut the Sun Devils’ deficit to two.
In the eighth, ASU shot themselves in the foot on the basepaths. Snow roped a liner down the right field line, but pranced around the first base bag and failed to make it to second on what should have been an easy double.
After a strikeout, Denson flew out to right, which could have easily advanced Snow to third had he been standing on second.
Rio Gomez would come on and unleash a couple of wild pitches, cementing Snow’s bad decision to not leg out a double. Snow was stranded at third by Tylor Megill instead of scoring, keeping game at 6-4.
Megill did his typical struggling in the late innings, allowing multiple ASU runners in the 8th and 9th. A run did score in the final inning to make the score 6-5.
It wasn’t the greatest of games by either team, but Arizona has recently made a habit of winning those kinds of contests.
“We know how to compete even when our stuff is not there,” Rivas said. “So we’re gonna find a way to score runs and win ball games.”
“It just shows the character and the guys we have in the clubhouse,” Stevenson added. “We didn’t play our best but we got runs when we needed ‘em and we got shut down innings when we needed to shut down guys.”
“I think you can point to the last three weeks,” Johnson tacked on. “I want to see we’ve played in at least four games where we’ve been tied in the seventh inning or up or down one, and we’ve won all of ‘em by one run. I think that’s the mark of mental toughness and mark of a fundamentally good baseball team.”
“Something I’ve always believed in is good teams find a way to win when it’s not going perfect and I think this team’s really started to do that over the last three weekends.”
The second game of the three-game series is scheduled to start at 7 PM PT on Friday night. That game, just like Saturday’s, will be shown on Pac-12 Network. Cameron Ming is the likely starter for Arizona on Friday night.