On multiple occasions, Mark Appel has talked about the
importance of ignoring external influences and focusing on
the task at hand, a lesson he took to heart after Stanford wilted in
the humidity of last year's Florida State Super Regional. MLB
Draft stress, final exam worries, oppressive weather, and an
excellent Seminole team all converged to end the flamethrower's
season on a grisly 17-1 note.
"It doesn't matter what your situation is," he said. "You're still going to have to go out and compete. You're still going to have to make the pitches."
That tunnel-vision mentality should come in especially handy this Friday at Berkeley, when Appel shoots to deliver a pristine performance and capture the Stanford strikeout record, all while his team around him goes up in flames. The Cardinal (26-21, 11-13 Pac-12), losers of six straight, have been virtually eliminated from postseason play after opening the season as Pac-12 title favorites. The Farm Boys were ranked in the preseason top 10, but their most recent setback, a 3-0 home shutout loss at the hands of RPI no. 280 Santa Clara (0-21 in WCC play), was simply embarrassing.
Anytime a team's trajectory parallels that of 2012 USC football, it's safe to say that things aren't going well.
It's hard to believe that Omaha is now pipe dream for Appel and the fellow members of his supremely touted 2009 recruiting class (many of whom are already playing at the professional level), but that's the hard truth. Still, the flamethrower has a chance to break Stanford's all-time strikeout record this weekend, etching his name into the program's annals before he likely becomes the No. 1 pick in this season's MLB Draft. ESPN analyst Kyle Peterson (1995-97) and Justin Wayne (1998-2000), the current kings, both struck out 363 batters in their Cardinal careers. At 352 punchouts, Appel is 11 shy of that record with two starts remaining in his senior season, the first of which comes 7 p.m. this Friday at California.
Appel has averaged just over nine strikeouts per 2013 start, so it would take quite the effort for him to break the record at Evans Diamond this weekend. Still, Appel has struck out 15 in a game this year, so a 12-punchout total is certainly within reach. The Bears are also especially prone to the strikeout, whiffing 329 times in 50 games this season.
A Faster Strikeout Pace Than Peterson
Many may point to the fact that Appel is in his fourth season pitching for Stanford, while Peterson and Wayne both accumulated their record 363 strikeouts in just three years on The Farm. But Appel's strikeout-per-inning pace is comparable to both of his predecessors. Having thrown 362.2 innings thus far, Appel's pace is ahead of Peterson's 398.1-innings haul. Wayne, a Hawaii native who attended high school at the prestigious Punahou Academy, like Barack Obama and Stanford football tight end Luke Kaumatule, struck batters out at the most impressive clip of the trio. He notched his 363 in only 342.1 innings of work.
Appel struck out only 26 batters coming on in relief during his 2010 freshman season. He then became Stanford's Friday ace in 2011, adding velocity to his fastball (which now sits in the mid-90s) and developing a nasty slider in mid-to-upper 80s. Appel struck out 86 batters as a sophomore and then 130 as a junior in 2012. He then perfected a third plus pitch, a back-breaking change-up, heading into this 2013 senior season. He locates his entire arsenal brilliantly and so far, he's at 110 punchouts on the year, still very much alive to break last season's total -- without the benefit of extra tournament play this time around.
A multitude of factors outside of Appel's control have contributed to his team's disappointing season. For one, over a third of the runs that he's given up have been unearned. Defensive struggles have cost him multiple wins. Still, Appel hasn't let those external negatives sully his senior campaign.
Not anymore. Because now, he has learned to block out the distractions and zero in on the task at hand through the storm. His excellent 1.97 ERA attests to that.
"It doesn't matter what your situation is," he said, as he has repeatedly of facing adversity. "You're still going to have to go out and compete. You're still going to have to make the pitches."
Those pitches are close to propelling him into a special place in school history, all while they give Cardinal fans one more bright spot before the curtain closes on 2013 and Mark Appel's spectacular Stanford career.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!