Early runs, Martinez power ASU baseball to 6-4 win over No. 15 Cal

On Friday, Seth Martinez received the run support he'd been missing in some starts.

Junior right-hander Seth Martinez has been stellar all year for ASU baseball, but entered the series with just a 4-3 record despite his 1.79 ERA. The missing piece amidst his consistent performance was the run support, which he finally received in Friday night's win. 

ASU (19-12, 5-8 Pac-12) defeated No. 15 Cal 6-4 on a two-run second inning and a four-run third, allowing Martinez to pitch the majority of his outing with a lead instead of having to battle through close games. 

He gave up just two runs on five hits in seven innings against a potent Cal (20-10, 8-5) lineup. He also added five strikeouts in the 97-pitch outing. 

Smith said Martinez throws the most unimpressive quality outings ever, which he noted is a compliment considering the righty's stuff isn't overly electric. 

"You look up seven innings later, he's held you down," head coach Tracy Smith said. "We'll take that from him every day of the week. He's been effective and it doesn't matter who we're playing. He's the leader of our staff and I think he showed why he was again tonight. (Cal) is a good baseball team and he held those guys in check."

Martinez issued a two-out walk to Cal's Mitchell Kranson in the opening frame. Then, Brett Cumberland, who entered the night batting .398, hit an RBI single for the game's first run. The score gave Cal a +16 run differential against opponents in the first inning. 

He said he felt a bit off to start the game, so he tried to restart in the second and find his groove. 

But how does he get into that groove?

"I think finding that tempo where I'm able to work at my own pace and making sure I just get that first pitch strike as much as possible," Martinez said. 

He gave up just one more run all game, which was a solo homer by Cal first baseman Nick Halamandaris.

Cal ace Daulton Jefferies is out for the series with an injury, so senior Ryan Mason pitched on Friday. Mason, who entered the game with just 13 earned runs allowed in 51.2 innings, gave up five in four frames and 74 pitches. 

Freshman Tyler Williams' RBI double tied the game and freshman Gage Canning's RBI single gave ASU a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second inning. 

Williams went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a triple, and also scored a run. Smith dubbed him the offense's "spark" on Friday. 

"He's a big, strong lad," Smith said. "He can hurt you pulling the ball and he can hurt you (opposite field). I just think his approach right now is good — he's seeing the baseball well, he's letting it travel and he's taking advantage of the strength."

In the third inning, junior first baseman David Greer hit his third home run in four games and the fourth of the year. It was only the second homer Mason had allowed since May 4, 2014. 

Mason then walked Woodmansee and sophomore center fielder Andrew Shaps before junior catcher Brian Serven hit a one-out RBI single. Ryan Lillard, who replaced Connor Higgins as the designated hitter before Higgins got an at-bat, followed that with a 2-RBI double to the gap in left-center field, giving the Sun Devils a 6-1 lead. 

Even with the early explosion, Smith said the pitching and defense was the key to victory. Greer and sophomore second baseman Andrew Snow each made diving stops. 

"You pitch it and you play defense, you have a chance to win," Smith said. "The timely hits, that stuff's going to come and go. It's been pretty simple — when we win, we play good defense and we're chucking it."

Sophomore Eli Lingos relieved Martinez on the mound with a runner on first, and after a walk, Cal second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz hit a 2-RBI double to bring the Golden Bears within two runs. He finished 2-for-3.

ASU didn't want to use Erives, who was ideally slated to start on Saturday, but the Sun Devils needed to in the eighth inning. Erives was once again reliable and earned the four-out save to seal a series-opening win.

Erives threw 22 pitches, so he won't start tomorrow, but could potentially start Sunday, Smith said.

Smith said he has seen members of the group step up and take more ownership, which he mentioned is something that has been there on every one of his winning teams.

"If you're going to be good, it's player-driven," he said. "What we are starting to see in the past few weeks honestly is more of that (accountability). I think they're starting to get that it's okay to step out of the comfort zone. Maybe you haven't been a leader in the past, but we need you to lead."

Reach the reporter at Justin.Toscano@asu.edu or on Twitter @justintoscano3.

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