Commentary

Stanford pitchers split the work against Miami, share the spoils

Originally Published: June 19, 2008
By Curt McKeever | Special to ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- Somebody please give Stanford freshman pitcher Danny Sandbrink Bob Gibson's phone number.

Wednesday night at the College World Series -- in the hometown of the St. Louis Cardinals' Hall of Fame pitcher, the one person Sandbrink would most like to spend a day with -- the St. Louis product gave an inspiring, back-to-the-wall performance that deserved at least a lunch date.

And if a table for three is available, Sandbrink could bring along senior teammate and fellow pitcher Erik Davis.

With the Cardinal matched in an elimination game against top-ranked Miami, Sandbrink gave up infield singles to the first two batters he faced, leading to a run and an early 1-0 Miami lead.

But when he was pulled after issuing a leadoff walk in the fifth, the Hurricanes still had yet to record hit number three and trailed 3-1.

Davis, a right-hander who in four NCAA tournament appearances was 0-1 with a 7.71 earned-run average, then kept a Hurricane offense that had produced double-digit hit totals in 40 games this year nearly as silent while pitching into the ninth of the Stanford's 8-3 victory.

"There's nothing like getting a start in the College World Series as a freshman. It's just an amazing experience," said Sandbrink, who vowed in recent years that he'd never attend the event before he played in it. "Going into the game I was kind of nervous about how my nerves would be. Once I got out there I just kind of zoned in. Nothing really bothered me."

[+] EnlargeDanny Sandbrink
AP Photo/Nati HarnikStanford's Danny Sandbrink gave up two hits and one run against Miami.
Gibson, one of the most intimidating pitchers of all time, would like that about the kid.

Thanks to Sandbrink's coolness, Stanford gets to play a rematch against Georgia, which beat the Cardinal 4-3 on Monday. A Cardinal win would force a third game between the teams on Saturday to decide one of the spots in the championship series.

The fact that this is the first year teams in the loser's bracket get a day off in between games isn't lost on Stanford coach Mark Marquess, either.

"It's huge," he said. "It kind of evens out a little bit, because obviously you want to reward the team that wins the first two, but you don't want to make it impossible to come back.

"They get to sit for a couple of days and rest, and we get at least a day. I think that balances it out."

Stanford will look to ace lefty Jeremy Bleich, the 44th overall pick of the June 5 Major League draft, while Georgia will send its No. 1 starter, Trevor Holder, a right-hander who was a 10th-round pick.

What a quick turnaround Marquess' bunch has produced.

Though the Cardinal finished the 2007 season on a six-game winning streak, all that did was get them to a .500 record, not good enough for them to make their 14th straight NCAA regional.

Today, they're one of five teams still with a shot at the national title.

"We held a very good offense in check for most of the game, and going into it we knew if we could keep the game close late in the game we'd think we had a chance," Davis said. "It was all up to the pitching today, because our hitters have done it all year. When we've gotten in trouble a little bit is when the pitching fluctuates a little bit."

Wednesday marked just the sixth start of the season for the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Sandbrink. In his last outing, on June 1, he fired a six-hitter in a 13-1 victory against Pepperdine, a game that forced a rematch for the regional title that the Cardinal won 9-7.

But in his first four starts, Sandbrink had never gone further than four innings.

"He'd had a long time off, so we knew he wasn't going to go more than 75, 80 pitches and we knew we'd follow with Davis and hopefully we could pitch the bulk of the game with those two guys," Marquess said. "And with the exception of eight or nine pitches with [Drew] Storen, we were able to do that.

[+] EnlargeStanford Baseball
AP Photo/Eric FrancisStanford's Erik Davis reacts after getting out of a jam in the eighth inning against Miami.
"With a day off, that allows our pitching to have enough rest and enough arms. If we had to use four or five guys tonight, it would've been very difficult."

Sandbrink got typical freshman luck at the start, as Blake Tekotte reached on an infield single before Jemile Weeks bunted his way on. But he limited the damage to a lone sacrifice fly, and his teammates staked him to a 3-1 lead after four innings.

"The last couple of weeks of the regular season I just really kind of found my game, I guess. Everything's kind of clicked [with] the mental aspect," Sandbrink said. "Adjusting to college baseball ... I just kind of got it."

For good measure, he also developed a pitch that his teammates call 'The Funk.'

"They've just never seen anything like it," Sandbrink said. "It's kind of just a pitch I made up. It's kind of got the same speed and rotation of a fastball, but it just [dives]. That's really been my pitch for the last couple weeks."

It helped get him to the fifth inning Wednesday, and after he walked No. 9 hitter Yasmani Grandal to start it, Davis came on. After he issued a pass to Tekotte, catcher Jason Castro made a diving grab of a bunt Weeks had popped up foul, and then Davis fanned Nos. 3 and 4 hitters Yonder Alonso and Mark Sobolewski.

Stanford blew things open with a four-run fifth, which included a two-run homer by Sean Ratliff, whose parents grew up in Nebraska and met while attending Kearney State College (now the University of Nebraska-Kearney) in Kearney, Neb.

It was 8-1 going into the seventh before the Hurricanes, whose 53 wins tied for the most in coach Jim Morris' 15 seasons, finally scored again. But after loading the bases in the eighth on three straight singles, and scoring again on a sacrifice fly, they were left watching Davis fist pump after strikeouts of Grandal and Tekotte.

Davis would give up a walk and a double to start the ninth, but the freshman Storen got a foul pop-up and a strikeout before making a body-protecting line-drive grab to close the book.

"Today," Davis said of he and Sandbrink and Storen, "all three of us did a good job keeping them off balance and not allowing them to get that big inning."

Curt McKeever is a reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star.