It’s been four years since ASU has come to Hi Corbett Field for a 3-game series against Arizona, and big crowds are expected all weekend. That should result in a raucous environment that’s sure to get the Wildcats amped up to take on their rivals.
Just not too amped up, Chip Hale hopes.
“I think the biggest deal about this weekend is to keep the guys calm and in their game, because not a whole lot comes out of getting too fired up,” said Hale, who is in his first year as Arizona’s coach but who has plenty of history with the ASU rivalry from his playing days. “I just think baseball is not a sport like football where you can just go out and hit somebody. I think it’s a sport you need to play at about 80 percent.
“Instead of 100 percent intensity, you try to dial it back to 80 percent, which with your adrenaline will get you to 100 percent.”
Hale went 8-16 against ASU when he played for the Wildcats from 1983-87, going 6-6 at home and 2-10 in Tempe. As a coach he’s 0-1 against the Sun Devils, having lost 10-6 in Phoenix on April 5.
Arizona led 6-3 in the 5th inning at ASU before a trio of errors led to seven unearned runs.
“We have some history already this season,” he said. “I talked to the team pretty heavily after the loss up there in Phoenix, so they know how I feel about this series and they know how I feel how we should play baseball. We had some issues in that game that I didn’t think were UofA-esque baseball, let’s put it that way. We didn’t play like the name across the front of our jerseys says we’re supposed to play.”
Arizona (26-12, 11-7 Pac-12) returns home after an up-and-down road trip that saw it go 3-2, dropping two of three conference games at Utah before sweeping a pair of non-league games at Creighton.
“It showed a lot,” Hale said of the Creighton games, in which Arizona allowed only one run on 11 hits after Utah had 26 runs and 41 hits. “It was not fun, weather wise. It was cold. It was windy. We were away from family on Easter. And we had a day there just to sit and stew about the losses at Utah, and then they came back and just played good baseball.”
The UA went with all relievers in Omaha, using eight different pitchers for between one and three innings apiece with several appearing in both games.
“We left Utah losing two out of three and didn’t feel real good about ourselves, especially with the pitching part of it,” Hale said. “And then going into Creighton, knowing our starters weren’t going to pitch, knowing that we needed to lean on these relievers so much, was a huge deal. We got some confidence in guys that need to pitch well for us down the stretch for us to go where we want to go. We didn’t rip the cover off the ball, but we battled and did things to win the game. Again, it was led by the pitching staff.”
The bullpen could get a lot of work this weekend depending on how the starters fare. Both TJ Nichols and Garrett Irvin had arm soreness after their starts at Utah, with Irvin only going three innings, while one-time Sunday starter Dawson Netz remains unavailable while working through some tendonitis. Freshman left-hander Eric Orloff could start for Nichols or Irvin if either can’t go, though Hale is optimistic both will make their scheduled turns in the rotation.
“The last three or four days (they) have had no soreness in throwing the ball at full speed, so they should be good to go,” he said.
Irvin, normally the Game 2 starter, is listed as starting on Sunday while righty Chandler Murphy is slated to pitching Saturday.
ASU (19-19, 8-7) has won five straight, sweeping USC at home last weekend, scoring six or more runs in 12 of the last 13 games.
“They’ve gotten better and better as the season has gone on, and their record shows it,” Hale said. “Very impressive the way they’ve put it together, because I know they’ve got some big injuries. I think they’ve kind of figured out their lineup. If you look at their staff, it’s the three starters and about five relievers that are kind of the main guys, and they’ve done a nice job.”
For the season ASU has a 6.31 team ERA, 8.18 in Pac-12 play. Arizona’s ERA is at 4.84 in Pac-12 play and 4.20 for the year.
Thirty-five years later, Hale has vivid memories of his clashes with ASU. He recalls his “undermanned” team as a freshman in 1984 having to go toe to toe with the likes of Barry Bonds and Oddibe McDowell, how the 1987 squad his senior year was very young after losing nearly a dozen players to the MLB Draft, and utter dominance over the Sun Devils in 1986 on way to winning a College World Series title.
“We were at a point where we weren’t playing great, and Coach (Jerry) Kindall, this is before this was a big deal, but he made these T-shirts for us,” Hale said. “It said ‘Second Season.’ He gave to us I think before we played Grand Canyon. He said okay, here’s where it starts. We need to win these last games to be a player in the regionals.”
Arizona swept that series, outscoring the Sun Devils 49-17, then went 8-1 in the postseason en route to the third of four national titles for the program.