CORVALLIS — After his 113th pitch caught Beau Branton looking, Luke Heimlich let out the last of the emotion he’d been holding in reserve.
Eight innings and a career-high 14 strikeouts were more than enough for Heimlich and Oregon State in Friday’s 6-2 baseball victory over No. 2 Stanford.
“I kind of laid it out there in the eighth inning and showed some emotion,” Heimlich said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have saved the energy.”
You can’t fault the Beavers for showing a little extra fire. They were playing the Pac-12’s first-place team with a conference title at stake, cheered by a record crowd that gave Goss Stadium a Super Regional-like atmosphere.
“It felt like that, didn’t it?” coach Pat Casey said. “We were jammed up pretty good, man.”
Oregon State (37-7, 15-6 Pac-12) can take over the conference lead with a sweep of the Cardinal. The pivotal series couldn’t have started better for the Beavers, who scored three runs against Stanford’s Tristan Beck in the first inning.
The Beavers were prepared to be patient at the plate, but they didn’t have to wait long for their offense to get rolling. After a two-out single from Adley Rutschman scored Steven Kwan in the first, Michael Gretler crushed a first-pitch slider from Beck into the left-center field gap for a two-run double.
“Sometimes against guys like Beck who have had really good seasons, it’s more of a grind-it-out (approach), make him throw a lot of pitches,” Gretler said. “Today it just happened to be in the first.”
The Beavers added a run in the second with a leadoff double from Kyle Nobach and a sacrifice fly from Kwan to lead 4-0. That was plenty of cushion for Heimlich, who didn’t allow a hit until Kyle Stowers dropped a double inside the foul line in the fifth. The next batter, West Linn native Will Matthiessen, crushed a two-run home run over the wall in left for Stanford’s only runs of the game.
“I really thought he only made one or two mistakes all game long,” Casey said. “He kept the ball down, velocity was up — he was outstanding.”
Heimlich gave an assist to Rutschman, who tossed his catcher’s mask to chase a foul pop up in the fourth inning and smacked face-first into the Oregon State dugout after making the catch. Rutschman’s head snapped back, but he waved off a trainer and stayed in the game to set the target for all 113 of Heimlich’s pitches.
“I thought he hit his head pretty hard on the dugout,” Heimlich said. “It was a great play. You don’t realize how lucky you are on those plays, because not many people make them, but Rutsch makes them routinely.”
Heimlich had to sweat a bit in the seventh inning after thinking he’d struck out Stowers with a 2-2 curveball. Stowers ended up drawing a walk, but Heimlich struck out Matthiessen to end the inning.
“Every at bat is big late in the game,” Heimlich said. “We didn’t have a big lead at that point. Especially when my team gives me a lead, you’ve got make sure you go out and get zeroes after that and keep momentum on your side.”
The Beavers made things easier on closer Jake Mulholland by scoring two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. Cadyn Grenier led off the inning with a double and advanced to third on a grounder from Nick Madrigal, jarring the ball loose with his slide on a play at third. Trevor Larnach followed with a two-run single to put the Beavers in front 6-2 and wrap up a victory in the first game of a pivotal series. The series will resume at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“It makes me feel a lot better,” Casey said. “I’ll at least sleep an hour tonight."