Like any great pitcher, Tristan Beck settled in as the game moved along.
Luckily for third-ranked Oregon State, an early offensive surge was all Luke Heimlich would need on a picturesque Friday evening.
The Beavers erupted for three first-inning runs and did some more damage late against No. 2 Stanford’s ace, kicking off a critical three-game Pac-12 baseball series with a 6-2 victory before a record crowd of 3,830 at Goss Stadium. OSU will try to clinch the series at 2:05 p.m. Saturday.
“Anytime we can get Luke a lead, we like our chances,” said senior infielder Michael Gretler, who had a two-RBI double during OSU’s three-run first. “Sometimes against guys like Beck who have had good seasons … it’s more of a grind-it-out, but today it just happened to be in the first.”
The Beavers (37-7-1, 15-6-1) are now a game and a half back of Stanford (38-7, 17-5) for the Pac-12 lead. OSU is 20-2 overall against the Cardinal since 2011.
The early runs were an added boost for Heimlich (12-1), who struck out a career-high 14 in eight stellar innings. It was the most strikeouts for an OSU pitcher since Andrew Moore fanned 14 against North Dakota State in 2014.
Heimlich allowed two runs on three hits with two walks. The senior left-hander gave way to Jake Mulholland after 113 pitches.
Was it Heimlich’s best performance of the season?
“Uh, probably not,” he said. “This week I didn’t have my changeup working as much, I think I only threw it six or seven times and not really in the zone. Whereas the last two weeks against Arizona State and at Washington State, I was throwing it like 10, 15, 20 times. It kind of completes my arsenal.”
Heimlich is OSU’s all-time strikeouts leader (341) and is second in career victories (32) behind Ben Wetzler’s 36.
“He’s been real good lately, and he just keeps getting better and better,” coach Pat Casey said of Heimlich.
Beck (7-3), a projected first-round pick in June’s MLB draft, put up five straight zeroes after the second inning before surrendering two more runs in the eighth. The junior righty was charged with six runs (four earned) on nine hits with five strikeouts and no walks in seven-plus innings.
Steven Kwan and Trevor Larnach had two hits apiece at the plate.
OSU got to Beck immediately, plating three runs on four hits in the bottom of the first.
Kwan led off with a single and scored when Adley Rutschman grounded a ball back up the middle. Gretler followed with a first-pitch double to the wall in left-center that brought home Larnach and Rutschman for a 3-0 lead.
The Beavers added another run in the second on a Kwan sacrifice fly that plated Kyle Nobach, who doubled off the left-field wall to open the frame.
“You just have to get a pitch you can hit off of him,” Casey said of Beck. “He can three-pitch you to death if he gets going, as you saw. He got really, really good in the middle there.
“He’s real good. I’ve never seen Stanford run a bad arm out there.”
Will Matthiessen, the reigning Pac-12 player of the week, got Stanford on the board in the fifth with a two-run homer to straight away left. It was Matthiessen’s sixth round-tripper of the month.
Heimlich won his next battle with Matthiessen, freezing the West Linn High product with a 1-2 fastball after issuing a two-out walk in the seventh. One inning later, Heimlich allowed a two-out single before striking out Beau Branton on a perfect outside fastball.
The 2017 Pac-12 pitcher of the year visibly fed off the crowd while mowing down the Cardinal.
“It’s a lot of fun having them behind us,” Heimlich said. “It’s a big energy boost for everybody. It’s our job to get the fans involved and make things interesting, and we were able to do that. The fans kept the energy up all game.”
Added Casey: “This is an unreal place to watch a game and play a game, and players love it.”
The Beavers took advantage of an error to plate two insurance runs in the eighth.
Cadyn Grenier opened the inning with a double to the corner in left, extending his hitting streak to 21 games. Nick Madrigal then grounded a ball right at shortstop Nico Hoerner for what appeared to be an easy out at third, but Grenier knocked the ball out of Tim Tawa’s glove with a hard slide. Madrigal alertly pulled into second on the play.
Larnach followed with a bullet to right that went for a two-RBI single, chasing Beck.
Mulholland pitched a 1-2-3 ninth as the Beavers clinched the series opener.