Jan. 26, 2003
By Brian Gomez
Most Sun Devil baseball fans likely took notice of sophomore infielder Jeff Larish's improvement from the midpoint of last season to the start of this year.
But very few people probably anticipated a performance like this from someone who figured to not even play in a single game during his freshman campaign.
Larish did the unthinkable Sunday afternoon by tallying nine RBI, which tied the mark for the most in school history. He accomplished the record-setting feat with a 3-for-4 effort that included a two-run single, a two-run homer, a grand slam and a bases-loaded walk.
"I had no idea," Larish said after No. 8-ranked Arizona State put the finishing touches on a three-game sweep of San Diego State with a convincing 24-9 victory at Packard Stadium.
Larish got the Sun Devils on the board for the first time Sunday with a single to the gap in left field off freshman right-hander Ronnie Lindsey, who was rocked for nine runs, six of which were unearned, on four hits in 2 2/3 innings. Sophomore shortstop Dustin Pedroia, who reached on a single to center field, and freshman left fielder Travis Buck, who drew a walk, scored on the play.
With ASU ahead 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning, Larish stepped to the plate in search of more big things. He delivered by launching a hanging curveball over the second fence in right field and past oncoming traffic on Rural Road.
Larish struck again in the fourth inning with a grand slam to right field that gave the Sun Devils a 13-0 lead. The high-arcing blast traveled an estimated 375 feet.
"Guys got on for me and let me get pitches to hit, so it's a credit to them," Larish said. "You can't control where the ball is going to go, you can just control the pitches you swing at. I was looking for that pitch to hit and I happened to get it."
Pedroia and junior right fielder Andre Ethier reached base and moved into scoring position in the seventh inning, setting up what looked like a chance for Larish to tie or break the school record for the most RBI in a single game. But they both scored on a pair of wild pitches by junior right-hander Ryan Heil before Larish grounded out to second base to end the inning.
Larish secured a spot in the record books in the eighth inning on the strength of a bases-loaded walk that scored freshman left fielder Ryan Bosch from third. He failed to reach the plate for a second time in the frame and the Sun Devils didn't bat in the ninth inning, preventing Larish from breaking the record set on May 2, 1990 by Tommy Adams, who played alongside Jim Austin and Mike Kelly in what was tabbed the "million-dollar outfield."
"He could have easily had a bunch more, but your team has to be playing real well and the other team has to give you some base runners in order for that to happen," ASU head coach Pat Murphy said.
Larish hit 6-for-12 in the three-game series to improve his batting average to .517 on the season. He also scored four runs to give him a team-leading 14.
Larish's five homers and 22 RBI are tops among Sun Devils. Larish has drawn 12 walks and has struck out just once in nine games this season.
"He's worked hard to better himself mentally and physically," Murphy said. "He's really coming into his own."
Those kinds of numbers seemed farfetched a year ago when Larish expected to redshirt until starting at third base in mid-March against Oklahoma. He went on to start 32 of the next 33 games en route to a phenomenal freshman season in which he hit .328 with four doubles, three triples and three home runs, good enough for honorable mention All-Pac-10 accolades
The Tempe McClintock High School product continued to work hard over the summer by partaking in a rigorous strength and conditioning program. The 15 extra pounds he tacked onto his 6-foot-2 frame have resulted in added power for a refined left-handed swing.
"You just grow as a player and learn things," said Larish, who started the year off on the right foot in the season-opening six-game series at Hawai'i-Hilo by going 9-for-17 (.529) with 12 RBI and 10 runs scored. "My approach is still the same. It's no different than last year."
Like several of his other teammates, Larish has adapted quite well to a position change that saw him move across the diamond from third base to first base. He made only five errors in 34 games last season for a .938 fielding percentage.
"A lot of guys would have squawked at going over to first base, but he loved it and trusted it," Murphy said. "He's probably more of a draft pick at third base, but he's a ball player. He's on the roster and he's just making the most of his opportunity."
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.