Saturday, June 11, 1988
Stanford, a team of inconsistency during the regular season, displayed one constant on its march to a second straight College World Series championship.
"Skill on the hill, as we say, skill on the hill," Cardinal Coach Mark Marquess said. "That's what we had."
Freshman Stan Spencer capped a string of impressive postseason peformances by Stanford pitchers in helping the Cardinal defeat top-ranked Arizona State 9-4 in Saturday's nationally televised championship game at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Spencer, a freshman from Vancouver, Wash., limited the Sun Devils to one unearned run in seven innings before tiring in the eighth. Spencer's pitching, combined with Stanford's eight-run outburst in the first three innings, stripped much of the drama from the expected showdown between the rivals from the Pacific 10 Southern Division.
A crowd of 16,071, which pushed tournament attendance to an all-time record 132,698, saw seventh-ranked Stanford finish 46-23 and become the first team in 14 years to successfully defend its championship. Southern Cal, which won five straight championships from 1970 to 1974, and Texas, which won in 1949 and 1950, are the only other teams to win back-to-back titles.
The Cardinal, finishing strong with wins in 13 of its final 15 games, repeated in surprisingly similar fashion.
Last year, Stanford won its first national championship despite hitting .262 in the tournament. This year, the Cardinal finished its six games batting .249, an average padded by 23 hits in its final two games.
Stanford pitchers offset the lack of offensive punch by leading the series with a 2.38 ERA. A year ago, Cardinal pitchers posted a 2.95 ERA.
"Our pitchers carried us for the first four games when we weren't hitting," Stanford catcher Doug Robbins said. "They were all on. They pitched their best baseball, and they saved it for the right time."
Spencer, a right-hander who limited Miami to one run in 6 2/3 innings in his other CWS appearance, held the hot-hitting Sun Devils to six hits and an unearned run in the first seven innings.
Arizona State, which came into the title game hitting .328, had bombed Wichita State for 23 hits in Friday's 19-1 final, clinching victory over Wichita State.
But Stanford seized the momentum by jumping on Arizona State for five runs in the first inning. Sun Devil starter Rusty Kilgo, brilliant in his first two tournament performances, faced just six batters before leaving the game behind 3-0.
Two of the runs came on Ed Sprague's third series homer, a 380-foot blast to left-center field. Ron Witmeyer singled in a run, and two more came home on Brian Johnson's fence-clanging double off reliever Blas Minor.
Spencer said the big inning had a big effect on the Sun Devils.
"They're a lot different team when they're winning," said Spencer, 7-2 in his first college season. "That inning seemed to change them a bit. It's nice to have that kind of lead.
"But you can never underestimate Arizona State. I didn't want to come into this game as I have had to all year and hold them to no runs inning after inning. The big lead gave me some breathing room."
Spencer gave the Sun Devils some chances, but no runs in the early innings.
Arizona State stranded runners at third base in each of the first two innings. The Sun Devils left men at second and third in the third when No. 4 hitter Steve Willis popped out to end the inning.
Stanford, meanwhile, added two runs in the second and another in the third to take a comfortable 8-0 lead.
The Sun Devils finally pushed an unearned run across in the fourth. They added three more in the eighth when Spencer surrendered a three-run homer to Willis.
"By then, Stan was getting tired and it was time to go get him," Marquess said. "But he pitched a great game. In his last three games, he's pitched as well as anyone we have.
"The big thing today was he was throwing strikes. He didn't hurt himself with walks, and when he does that, a team is going to have to bunch its hits to beat him. Arizona State never could do that."
Spencer had faced Arizona State twice during the season, posting a 10.80 ERA in 6 2/3 innings against the Sun Devils.
"I think he knew the hitters better today," Willis said. "The first couple of times I faced him today, he had me thinking, and when he got me thinking, I was beat. He pitched much better than he had the two previous times."
Stanford relief ace Steve Chitren replaced Spencer after Dan Rumsey followed Willis' home run in the eighth with a single. Chitren got Martin Peralta to line into a double play, then retired Tim Spehr on a line drive to center field.
"When Rumsey hit the quail that dropped in the eighth inning, it looked like things might start turning our way," Arizona Coach Jim Brock said. "But when you're that far behind, you can't have line drives go right at people.
"You have to have them all fall in. You have to be lucky in that situation. We weren't."
Chitren finished off the Devils in the ninth, allowing a harmless two-out single to Pat Listach before getting John Finn to pop out to first baseman Witmeyer.
The final out ignited a Stanford victory celebration for the second straight year.
"This is indescribable," said Stanford's Sprague. "After winning last year, I thought nothing could top that feeling. But this feels as good, if not better."
Marquess said it was a feeling he never expected to experience this season.
"I didn't think it would be possible, not just for our team, any team, to repeat as national champions," he said. "There are so many great college baseball programs, and to win it again is just unbelievable."
Marquess said many times during the tournament he couldn't explain why Stanford was such a hot-or-cold team this season.
"I still can't figure this team out, Marquess said. "There were times we could look very good and then, the very next game, we'd look very bad.
"To be honest, there were many times this season that we could have quit. The players and coaches know that. We had some tough times.
"We just kept telling ourselves that if we kept working hard, maybe something good would happen. It did, and it happened at the right time."
Stanford was 33-21 before catching fire in the final weeks of the season, winning 13 of its last 15 games.
The Cardinal was 5-14 against five other CWS opponents. Against Arizona State, Stanford was 1-5 before Saturday's game.
"We played Fresno State and got crushed twice," Stanford right fielder Paul Carey said. "We went to Miami and got crushed twice. Arizona State embarrassed us five out of six times.
"We came here and beat all three teams, and it was sweet to beat them. We got a little revenge."
Not to mention a second straight championship.