College baseball: Stanford off to hot start under newly hired head coach David Esquer
STANFORD –– Adjusted math: What is 3-0 minus Nine?
It's the new era of Stanford baseball under the David Esquer regime, which began with a sweep of Cal State Fullerton over the weekend at Sunken Diamond.
The No. 12 Cardinal (4-0) picked up another win Monday at UC Davis and resumes action Thursday as it hosts Rice for a four-game series.
Gone, but not forgotten, is Mark Marquess.
"No one thought it was going to be the same without Nine," Stanford right-hander Tristan Beck said. "A huge part of the program left, a huge part of college baseball left with Nine, and the whole goal of the year was a changing of the guard."
Esquer sat in the visitor's dugout as Cal's head coach every time he faced his alma mater for 18 years.
Wearing a No. 8 jersey, the 52-year-old reminisced about his days on The Farm after Sunday's 6-5 victory.
"This dugout hasn't changed much, even though the whole surroundings are different, so it felt great," said Esquer, a starting shortstop on the 1987 College World Series championship team. "Like I said, it reminded me of playing and coaching for the six years that I was here. Just the energy that was here, our guys were into it the whole weekend and they were playing every pitch and supporting their teammates.
"That's what I remember. Just the sounds of this, the camaraderie and the energy that comes out of the Stanford dugout."
As fate would have it, the passing of the torch arrived with a certain degree of symmetry.
Turns out Fullerton put Marquess out to pasture a year ago at the NCAA Regional hosted by Stanford, which definitely served as additional motivation over the weekend.
"For sure, that stung," Esquer said.
"It's fresh in my memories," said Beck, limited to spectator status after a back injury shelved him for the season.
"What they did to us last year left a really bad taste in our mouths," said first baseman Andrew Daschbach, a local product from right down the street at Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton. "I think all offseason we were working towards this moment right here and this matchup. And we were able to take full advantage of it."
In case it's not obvious enough, the Cardinal didn't hide how much revenge played a factor.
"Of course, I'd be lying if it felt like a totally normal series because those are the guys that ended our season last year," said shortstop Nico Hoerner, named to the watch list for the 2018 Golden Spikes Award along with southpaw teammate Kris Bubic. "So when you have that emotion tied to that, it is personal. And we started with strong on Friday, then continued it throughout the weekend. Obviously have so much left to accomplish this year and a lot to get better at from this weekend, but I wouldn't want to start it any other way."
Two years ago, Beck became only the third Stanford freshman to take the mound on Opening Day for the Cardinal since 1988, following in the footsteps of Mike Mussina and Cal Quantrill.
After a 630-day absence, Beck got the call once again in the season opener, lasting six innings while allowing four hits and a walk with five strikeouts in a 5-1 victory.
"It was good to be out there with the team, obviously — and get the season started right," Beck said. "It was really easy to pitch with a five-run cushion, the offense came out to play, so from there on it really set the tone for the weekend."
Not quite relegated to No. 2 status in the rotation, Bubic delivered on Saturday after an economical 74 pitches over five innings in which he scattered three hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
Beck was lifted after 87 pitches, but expect the workload to increase throughout the year.
"It will take a little bit more pressure off of the pen," Esquer said. "Both of those guys were rolling and just their pitch counts was their time to be out."
Remember, the offense came out to play.
Against a team ranked No. 17 in the nation in the preseason poll, Stanford swept its way through 5-1, 5-3 and 6-5 victories.
"Those guys are awesome," Beck said of the bats. "All fall, all winter, we knew it. People want to cut it short, but you can't ignore that weekend."
"I think our lineup, kind of 1-through-9, really flows well into each other," said Daschbach, who hit two-run triple during an instrumental four-run rally in the bottom of the first on Sunday. "I feel like good at-bats are contagious and that's what we were able to really do all weekend."
It's hard to ignore the impact of Hoerner, a 5-11, 195-pound junior out of Oakland, atop the lineup as the table setter.
Through four games, he's hitting .533 with five runs while a perfect 4-for-4 on the base path.
"He's just been able to do everything," Esquer said. "Whether it's get on base, steal some bases and then drive in a couple of runs when we needed it."
"I'm not really treating it differently than if I was hitting third or cleanup or seventh or anywhere else in the lineup," Hoerner said. "I'm trying to control at-bats and get a good pitch to hit. But getting to steal bases has been a really fun part of the start of the year and something I have to get better at."
The task of replacing a Hall of Fame coach won't be easy, but Marquess' protege is off to a good start.
"It's been a seamless transition, really," Daschbach said. "I liked a lot of things that Nine did, but Coach Esquer brings a great new energy and really knows how to fire up his guys, as you can see."
"It's been all about just establishing the relationships and communication with our guys," Esquer said. "This is not a reclamation project, right? We don't have to come in here and turn this thing all the way over. It was kind of keep it moving forward and take the baton from Coach Marquess.
"I think we're on our way of doing that, but this is just the first test. There's going to be much greater ones."