A suicide squeeze was a fitting way to end a wild, frustrating ballgame between New Mexico and Utah on Sunday afternoon at Isotopes Park.
Unfortunately for the Lobos, the Utes made the play to score the winning run in the 10th inning and come away with a 9-8 victory that gave Utah two victories in the three-game series.
“It was very hard to stomach, especially after we put up three (runs) in the eighth,” said UNM coach Ray Birmingham. “We should have won that ballgame. But we’ve got something bigger to fix than just that ballgame. It’s obvious, it jumps out at you.”
That something is pitching. The Lobos (14-7, 1-2 Mountain West) gave up 51 hits over the weekend, including 23 on Sunday. Utah (9-8, 2-1) had come into the series batting just .256 as a team.
“Teams are batting off our pitching staff in the low .300s,” Birmingham said. “That worries me immensely.”
UNM sophomore left-hander Rudy Jaramillo allowed four runs on five hits in the first inning, getting just one out before being pulled in favor of RIchard Olson.
The Lobos battled back, eventually cutting the deficit to 5-4 in the fourth inning. The score remained that way up through two outs in the eighth inning when Utah’s bullpen suddenly seemed to hit a wall.
Freshman Brock Duke walked three consecutive Lobos to load the bases. Zach Adams was summoned to replace him, but Adams promptly walked UNM’s Max Willett on four pitches to force in the tying run.
The Utes called in Tyler Andersen to put out the fire, but he promptly walked Alex Allbritton on five pitches to push across the go-ahead run.
Senior Stephen Streich was next to come in for Utah, but he allowed a two-run double down the left-field line to Daniel Gonzalez, giving the Lobos an 8-5 lead.
Yet it wasn’t enough for UNM to escape with a series victory.
Michael Beltran led off the ninth inning with a double and then scored on Nick Koruczko’s single up the middle. C.J. Cron followed with a double off the hill in center field to score Koruczko and cut the UNM lead to one run.
The Lobos summoned closer Gera Sanchez in from the bullpen. The sophomore got Devin Walker to ground to shortstop, but Gonzalez misplayed the ball and all the runners were safe.
Sanchez rebounded by striking out Nik Gumeson and getting Jo Jo Sharrar to pop up to second base. Pinch hitter Mark Moorman then battled it out with Sanchez at the plate, and Moorman prevailed with a full-count walk.
A flustered Sanchez then walked Zach Jones on five pitches to force in the tying run. Sanchez struck out Tyler Yagi to end the inning, but the damage had been done.
“We had a shot to win this, we should have won it,” Willett said. “We had a three-run lead going into the ninth. Any team who has ever played, you’ll feel pretty comfortable with that lead. Obviously it hurts a little more knowing we should have won that game.”
After the Lobos failed to score with two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, the Utes erupted in the 10th. Beltran and Koruczko hit back-to-back singles, and Rick Cornu followed with a sacrifice bunt. Sanchez fielded the ball and threw to first, but he pulled Adam Courcha off the bag and Cornu was safe, loading the bases.
Josh Reed then laid down a bunt as Beltran charged in from third, scoring on the suicide squeeze to put Utah ahead for good.
The Lobos went down in order in the 10th inning, but it wasn’t a total loss, Birmingham said.
“The one thing that I’m proud of is the fight in our kids,” he said. “No matter what happens they keep battling to put themselves back in a situation to win. We were one pitch away from winning that ballgame, we were one base hit away from winning that ballgame.
“The fight in this young team is really important to me. There’s still a long season ahead of us and I can’t let this affect us.”
UNM gets little time to rest before heading to Tucson for a two-game series with Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Lobos will return home for a three-game series against San Diego State beginning Friday at 6 p.m. at Isotopes Park.