The artful Australian was at it again.
After shutting down the University of Missouri lineup on Tuesday, ASU junior pitcher Josh Spence was piling up the zeroes against the same team on Sunday.
Nanoseconds after delivering a 1-0 pitch in the top of the seventh, the rhythms of dominance changed to gasps of distress.
Spence was hit in the face with a line drive with the bases loaded in a 1-0 game. The ball ricocheted off Spence and took one more bounce, landing in the glove of senior shortstop Mike Murphy, who turned it into a double play.
The game-tying run scored, but more importantly Spence lay on the ground motionless. The crowd observed in silence until minutes later when Spence, with the help of sports medicine rehabilitation specialist Kenny McCarty, walked off the field to a standing ovation.
“I don’t want to speak too soon, but it looks like he is out of major danger. He probably has a concussion and some type of fracture to his nose,” ASU coach Pat Murphy said.
ASU (8-1, 0-0 Pac-10) was handed its first loss of the season at the hands of UM, a team it had beaten twice in pitching duels earlier in the week.
Spence had gone 19 consecutive scoreless innings to start the season until his last pitch Sunday.
The injury along with the Sunday travel rule, which allows a non-conference road team to make its flight (by ensuring the final inning is played before three hours of total game time), forced Murphy to make impromptu decisions on his bullpen.
The juggling act called for usual closer freshman Jordan Swagerty to keep the game tied. The first batter Swagerty faced singled and the Sun Devils were down 2-1.
ASU answered in the bottom half of the seventh inning when freshman infielder Drew Maggi knocked in sophomore Matt Newman on a fielder’s choice. Junior Jason Kipnis followed by hitting into a double play.
In what has begun to develop as an early season trend, the Sun Devils struggled with runners in scoring position.
In the bottom of the fourth, ASU had the bases loaded and nobody out and could only muster one run. Kipnis opened the inning by reaching on a drag bunt to the third base side. He was followed by junior Carlos Ramirez’s single to left and an RBI single by junior Kole Calhoun. After freshman Zach Wilson walked to load the bases, Swagerty struck out, senior Mike Murphy popped out to the catcher and junior Raoul Torrez struck out looking on a slider.
“This is a reflection of how young we are,” Murphy said. “A game we had to win again against a team that was reeling. This is a club that doesn’t have the maturity to win four straight or five straight. We deserved to get beat and I think in the long run this was a loss that will end up helping us.”
In the top of the eighth UM scored three runs off Swagerty and Calhoun. ASU started the bottom of the eighth inning with two consecutive walks from Ramirez and Calhoun but did not get a baserunner thereafter. The game was called after the bottom of the eighth due to the travel rule.
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