Birmingham gave credit to Nevada pitcher Trevor Charpie, who fired a five-hit gem and largely willed the Wolf Pack to a 5-2 victory over the Lobos at cold-and-windy Santa Ana Star Field. Charpie allowed just two hits after the first inning in his first complete game of the season.
But Birmingham was hard-pressed to figure his team’s sluggish performance in a pivotal Mountain West Conference game. The Lobos (28-24-1, 18-8-1) came into the contest with a half-game lead over San Diego State in the league standings but did not play like a team battling for a conference title and host honors for next week’s MWC tournament.
“Fight in the dog is a big deal around here,” Birmingham said. “I’m not seeing the fight in our Lobo dog and that bothers me. Some guys are fighting, some are not and that doesn’t work out very well.”
It was a frustrating night on almost every front for the Lobos, who dropped their fourth straight game. The one positive note came from California, where Fresno State defeated second-place San Diego State 4-0. UNM’s magic number to clinch the Mountain West title dipped to two with two games remaining.
The Lobos will need to improve on Thursday’s performance if they hope to finish the job. Carl Stajduhar and Danny Collier had two hits apiece for New Mexico, but their teammates had one hit combined against Charpie.
A cold wind whipping in from left field did not aid the home team’s cause, as several well-hit balls to left and center field were blown into harmless outs. Stajduhar and Jared Mang hit deep shots that almost certainly would have left the park in calmer conditions.
Meanwhile, Wolf Pack (18-33, 12-15) hitters effectively played to the conditions, grinding out 15 hits on an assortment of ground balls and soft line drives. Nevada had five infield hits, including two bunts, along with a flair double that landed directly on the right-field line.
“The wind blowing in was a bad omen,” Birmingham said. “It knocked down a couple of homers and Nevada got some cheap hits. The baseball gods were not with us today.”
But Birmingham was not about to lay the defeat at the hands of bad luck. UNM starting pitcher Tyler Stevens (6-6) allowed four runs in six innings and had to work hard to keep the total that low. He surrendered 13 hits in six innings and threw 113 pitches.
“Tyler wasn’t sharp,” Birmingham said. “He was probably fortunate to only give up four (runs).”
One could also argue that Stevens was a bit unfortunate.
After UNM scored two first-inning runs on RBI singles by Stajduhar and Collier, Stevens ran into trouble in the third. A pair of infield hits — one a potential double-play ball that deflected off Stevens’ glove — and a solid single by Mike Echavia loaded the bases for Nevada. A balk plated one run, and Chase Grant’s ground single under Stevens’ glove gave the Wolf Pack a 3-2 lead.
Nevada added a run in the fifth when Grant laced a triple to right-center and scored on a two-out chopper that died between the plate and the mound for a hit.
Birmingham kept his players in the locker room for an extended talk after the game and expects to see more fight in tonight’s second game of the series.
“As a team we haven’t been sharp for quite a while,” he said, “and that’s got to change. What we saw tonight was not good enough.”