There are two ways to look at the Cougs dropping two of three against Stanford last weekend.
One way: When combined with taking two of three from No. 14 Arizona State, the Cougs actually are sitting pretty good at 3-3 after a pair of series with two of the Pac-12's tougher teams.
The other way: WSU missed a huge opportunity to take a series from a reeling Stanford squad thanks to being overmatched in one game and comically ineffective in another, as the Cougs still have yet to play any of the four teams ahead of them in the standings.
I subscribe to the latter, because I'm greedy like that. But the truth is that taking two of three from Stanford is harder than it sounds when you consider that you're basically punting the first game when facing a guy like Mark Appel -- the odds-on favorite to be the top pick in the MLB draft at the end of this season.
It comes down to winning on Saturday and Sunday, and the Cougars' bullpen let them down in the middle game. Erstwhile closer J.D. Leckenby allowed his inherited runners to score while giving up a run of his own, Sean Hartnett gave up a run in the eighth and Kyle Swannack gave up two more in the ninth.
Oh, and the Cougs were something like 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position in the game.
The weekend wasn't a total loss -- the Cougs retired John Olerud's number 18 on Saturday as Jason Monda did his best Olerud impression. Read on for how.
Nick Tanielu 5-for-10 (.500), 4 RBI, 2 BB, 2B, 3B (1.383 OPS)
Tanielu continues to punish pitchers, as his season average is all the way up to .424 with an OPS of 1.161. He had what could have been one of the bigger hits of the weekend, when his double on Saturday drove in all three runs to give WSU a 3-2 lead. But then the bullpen imploded, and that was that. Still, Tanielu continues to be WSU's most dangerous hitter.
Joe Pistorese 9 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 4 SO, 2 BB
No, Pistorese didn't "win" his matchup with Appel. But if, after watching this game, you still didn't believe that pitcher wins is the stupidest measure of pitcher effectiveness, you're hopeless. Short of being nearly perfect, Pistorese couldn't have done much more than what he did in this game, giving up just two earned runs in going the distance to match Appel's complete game. It's not easy pitching knowing that any mistake you make could mean your team has no chance, and Pistorese was able to scatter most of the hits and limit the damage to one inning. Just a super impressive performance by the young lefty, even if it came in a losing effort. (Perhaps because it came in a losing effort.)
Most Important At-Bat
Leading just 6-5 in the bottom of the eighth, the Cougs were looking for some insurance runs. Monda came to the plate with one down and a runner on first, and after working his way into a favorable count, deposited a 2-0 pitch over the right field wall to make the margin a little more comfortable for Kellen Camus, who was in the midst of a potential two-inning save. It wasn't the first time in the game Monda helped Camus; he also pitched the 2 1/3 innings leading up to Camus' appearance, allowing just one run. The two-way, hitting-pitching performance was a quality tribute in front of the guy (Olerud) who did that very thing better than all other Cougs, before or since.
Most Important Pitch
With WSU stranding runners left and right on Saturday, the Cougs were really relying on the pitching staff to hold them in the game. A stong starting effort from Tanner Chleborad was good, but the sophomore finally ran out of gas in the seventh, leaving with an out and runner on. J.D. Leckenby relieved Chleborad. After a fielders choice and a single, designated hitter Wayne Taylor laced the first pitch he saw into the left-center gap to bring home both runners and break a 3-3 tie. Although Stanford would blow it open with four more in the ninth, it was that pitch that was the difference.
The Cougs welcome Gonzaga back in for a game on Tuesday before shipping out for Salt Lake City to take on Utah for three games (Friday to Sunday) and BYU for one (Monday). The Utes aren't the most imposing Pac-12 squad at 2-7, but those two wins came on the road against the same Stanford squad that just slapped the Cougars around for two of three games. Utah doesn't have a lot of pop, but the Utes feature a lot of pesky hitters that'll make life difficult for WSU.
Put simply, failing to take two of three from the Utes makes the goal of reaching the postseason that much more difficult.
If you haven't had a chance to watch the team yet, you can do so on Saturday at 11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks and on Monday at 9 a.m. (not a typo) on BYUtv. There are no online streams of these games that I'm aware of.