The Arizona Wildcats have found new ways to lose all season.
On Friday night, in a 2-1 setback to Arizona State, they got downright creative.
Leading 1-0 in the top of the seventh, the UA brought on closer Bobby Dalbec with the bases loaded and one out. ASU’s R.J. Ybarra hit a sacrifice fly to left field to tie the game.
Harmless enough, right?
Nope — cue the circus music.
Dalbec tried to toss the ball to third baseman Willie Calhoun to appeal that the runner on third, Johnny Sewald, left early on Ybarra’s sacrifice fly. Instead, Dalbec threw the ball over Calhoun’s head and into the ASU dugout. That allowed the runner from second, Drew Stankiewicz, to score, giving the Sun Devils a 2-1 lead.
If one play could sum up Arizona’s 2014 season, this was it.
“The appeal did not come from the dugout,” UA coach Andy Lopez said. “I did not think he was anywhere near leaving early. That guy is gonna score 10,000 times out of 10,000 times. Hopefully, we will learn from that.”
Dalbec said he made an errant throw on the play.
“Willie yelled for me to throw over and it just sailed on me,” Dalbec said. “It’s not his fault, I should have just run over and given the ball.”
The loss dropped Arizona to 17-24 on the season and 6-13 in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats have lost four in a row and six straight conference series openers.
Even after Dalbec’s miscue, Arizona still had a chance to steal the opener.
The Wildcats loaded the bases in the eighth with one out, thanks to a fielder’s choice, a walk and an error to bring up junior Tyler Krause. Krause hit a soft ground ball on a 1-2 count to pitcher Jordan Aboites, who started a 1-2-3 double play to escape the inning.
It was a bit of revenge for the Sun Devils. Arizona escaped Tempe with a 7-6 win last season in the series finale when UA pitcher Augey Bill induced a 1-2-3 double play in the ninth inning to end the game.
Arizona had one last crack in the ninth when Cody Ramer opened the frame with a single. But after a strikeout by Dalbec, Riley Moore hit into a double play to end the game.
The loss was a continuation of Arizona’s offensive struggles.
The Wildcats have scored just five runs in their past four games and have just 17 hits in that span. On Friday, the UA went 0 for 6 in two-out hitting, 3 for 16 with runners on base and 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
“We had opportunities and we could not cash in on those opportunities,” Lopez said. “Our situational hitting right now is not very good. That’s the same things that gave us problems last weekend at USC.”
Despite their offensive struggles, the Wildcats actually led for a good chunk of the game. The UA manufactured a run in the fourth when Dalbec grounded out with one out to score Kevin Newman from third.
That stood as the only score until the ugliness in the seventh.
Newman, Krause, Ramer, Zach Gibbons and Scott Kingery each had one hit in the loss for the Cats.
Starting pitcher James Farris lasted just 4ª innings. He didn’t give up a run, but allowed five hits and walked four in 85 pitches.
Cody Moffett, who pitched two innings and gave up two runs (one earned), was charged with the loss. He fell to 1-2.
Stankiewicz went 3 for 5 in the win for ASU.
Starter Brett Lilek earned the win, tossing seven innings and giving up just three hits and one unearned run. He struck out five.
Arizona will try to even the series up tonight at 7:30. Cody Hamlin will start for the Wildcats. He’ll be opposed by left-hander Ryan Kellogg.