It was a well-known phenomenon.
Back when sure-to-be Hall Of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine anchored the perennially contending Atlanta Braves’ rotation of the early and mid-90’s, the two pitchers would try to one up each other’s most recent masterpiece, though they wouldn’t admit it on record.
While it would be hard to compare any collegiate pitching duo to those two greats, juniors Mike Leake and Josh Spence are leaving behind a trail of evidence that supports such a parallel.
The most recent example occurred this weekend against the rivals from the south.
In the series opener, Leake pitched a complete game, striking out 15 batters while allowing only one run, one walk and five hits.
Through seven innings the next night, Spence recorded 10 strikeouts and allowed only three hits, one walk and one run. Spence would go on to tire in the eighth in what was by far his highest pitch-count outing since returning from his injury. Spence was on pace, however, to match Leak’s performance.
While the days of Brett Wallace and Ike Davis are gone, a new identity for the 2009 Sun Devils may be forming.
The pitching duo sent a strong message to the rest of the conference this past weekend.
Coach Pat Murphy alluded to Leake’s conference-opening outing as being one of the better one’s he had seen.
“Talk about one guy carrying a team,” Murphy said. “[Leake had] total control, picked guys off, fielded his position, reacted to adversity. Go back how many years to find a college of game of this magnitude in the Pac-10, [and a performance of] one walk, 15 strikeouts.”
Like Glavine and Maddux, Spence is left-handed and Leake is right-handed. Much the same, neither pitcher is known for their raw fastball velocity.
Like Maddux, Leake is known for outwitting hitters like the Bobby Fischer of the baseball diamond.
Spence seems to have the same cerebral attributes, and like Glavine, he uses the outside of the plate to perfection. Glavine and Maddux were both experts at changing speeds, using a deep pitching arsenal and fielding their positions at a high level.
Leake can hit and has a devastating sinking fastball, Maddux has Cy Young awards in part because of his sinking action and a collection of Silver Slugger awards because of his bat.
The preposterous numbers thus far from the duo lends further credence to the comparison.
Leake, who is on pace to have one of the greatest pitching seasons in post-aluminum bat Sun Devil history, has 48 strike-outs and only 7 walks allowed in 40 innings.
In 35 innings, Spence has 48 strikeouts and only nine walks. The two combine for a near five to one strikeout to walk ratio.
Hitters have combined to a hit a measly .172 against them, with Leake sporting a 1.35 ERA and Spence posting a 1.8 ERA.
Outside of the 12-10 win against Kansas in the Surprise Tournament in which both pitchers worked in the same game, each pitcher has followed up the other’s previous performance by allowing two earned runs or fewer, combining for nine of ASU’s 17 wins on the season.
Drawing a crowd
The Sun Devils recorded their third-straight sellout on Sunday.
Murphy showed his appreciation for the support of the team’s dedicated fan base.
“It kind of chokes me up,” Murphy said. “I’m not a mushy guy as most of you know. We had three crowds that were technically sellouts. In these economic times, to have three sellouts, I know there is no team west of the Mississippi selling out. The best compliment we can all receive is having a sellout.”
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