Saturday, June 23, 2007

Stranger than fiction

What the Beavers have done this year is almost unimaginable. Honestly - if you wrote this script it would get laughed out of Hollywood:

Reigning National champs lose 3 of their 4 top pitchers and 6 of their 8 position players to the draft, go 10-14 in their conference, finish 6th in the PAC-10, and barely get a bid to the 64-team NCAA post season, based on their good record in a strong non-conference games and a gutsy series win against a very strong UCLA team in the last series of the year.

To qualify for the World Series they would have to travel to Virginia, where the ACC champs, UVA, and the Big East champs, Rutgers stood in their way of advancing to the next level.
The Beavs beat both of them twice to advance.

But danger was ahead. The Beavers' bracket meant they would probably have to next go to Nashville to play the #1 seed in the country, Vanderbilt, who had the #1 draft pick, pitcher Mark Price.

But Michigan upset Vanderbilt. So the Beavs had to travel to Michigan, right? Nope! Michigan did not put in an application to host the "Super-regional" tournament, because they were renovating their stadium. So the best of three series would be played in Corvallis.

To say this was a lucky break is to significantly understate the reality of the situation. The difference in a three game college baseball series in the middle finals week between sleeping in your own bed and travelling across the country and playing in someone else's house is immense.
Michigan was a very good hitting ballclub, and in the first game, their pitcher almost threw a no-hitter! OSU had a freshman on the mound, who threw a brilliant game, but the Michigan pitcher's game was even better. The score was 0-0 in the bottom of the ninth, and not a single OSU batter got a hit.

One man walked, who got to second on a ground-out, and with two out, Joey Wong slapped a single to right field.

Here is where the serendipity strains even the smarmiest Hollywood producer. A runner on second will score from second base on a lot of singles. The third base coach’s job is to decide whether to send the runner to home or not. He judges based on a whole host of factors: where on the field the left fielder gets to the ball, whether his momentum is going right at the plate or at some oblique angle, what kind of speed the runner has, how big a secondary lead he got on the pitch, how hard the ball was hit (and therefore how fast it got to the left fielder,) how many outs there are, what the game situation is, and what he knows about how strong the left fielder’s arm is.

A rule of thumb I always use is – unless the ball is fielded deep, if the left field gets the ball at the same time the runner touches third, the third base coach holds the runner.

On this play, the hit was fielded in shallow left field, and the left fielder ran directly to it in line with home plate. All of his momentum was going straight to home. He got the ball slightly before the runner got to third base.

No way should that runner be sent. Unless … unless they knew something about this left fielder. Unless they knew that he couldn’t throw well because of a shoulder injury that he was not yet recovered from.

The third base coach sent him, and the throw was weak. It bounced twice before arriving late at home plate. The throw itself could not have been more than 150 feet. To put this in perspective, nearly every HIGH SCHOOL left fielder could make this throw with ease. The throw from home to second base is 127 feet, and catchers at the college level routinely make the catch and throw in 2.0 seconds. It takes the fastest runners about 3 point something to run from 3rd to home. Under normal circumstances, a runner sent home in that situation would be out by 8 feet.

But these weren’t normal circumstances. The Beavers are a team of destiny. The Baseball Gods decreed that the one hit the Beavers would get that day would happen with two out in the ninth inning with a man in scoring position, and it would be hit to the one guy in division one college baseball who could not make the routine throw to get the baserunner out.

And that one run would be enough to win the game, because the OSU freshman pitcher, who nine months before was pitching for his 200 student high school team in central Washington, shut out the big-hitting Michigan team for the first time all year.

Are you getting a sense for how improbable this title defense is? It’s even better than that. The Beavs’ pitching staff was worn out in the weekend in Virginia because they had to climb through the losers bracket after losing to Virginia in 13 innings in the second game. One day in Virginia tournament was rained out, and so the combination of the extra innings game plus the extra games they had to play due to being in the losers bracket combined with the extra day from the rainout meant that the Michigan series would start before the Beavers’ pitching staff would have enough rest. They really needed some another day or so.

The Baseball Gods delivered. The first game against Michigan was supposed to be Saturday. But that was Rose Festival Parade weekend. ‘Nuff said. No game. Another day of rest. (I drove to Corvallis with my son, drove back.)

So they played that first Michigan game Sunday, rather than Saturday. Monday, they sent Michigan home with a terrific pitching performance by Mike Stutes, the Beav’s #1 pitcher, whose dad is a good friend of mine. They were headed back to Omaha for the third straight year.

And now they are one win away from defending their national title. One win away from consecutive national championships.

They shocked the baseball world last year by being the only northern US school in fifty years to win the national title. They did it in the most improbable way – losing their first game, winning SIX STRAIGHT games that they had to win or go home (which had also never once been done in more than 50 years.)

Now, this Beavers team now simply has to win one of the next two games to REPEAT as national champions.

Incredible.

I don’t know if you are a Beavers fan, but I can say one thing for sure:

God is.

4 comments:

Troutdale Councilor Canfield said...

God is a Ducks fan. Unfortunately, the Ducks don't have a Division 1 baseball program.

And in an amazing coincidence,there was a spare prayer available from an unlikely place. Paris Hilton's prayer for early freedom wasn't answered. Word on the street says this prayer came from such an unlikely place that the prayer e-mail spam filter sent the Paris prayer straight to the prayer junk folder.

So instead of letting a good answer to prayer wither like a week old Oregon strawberry, God took mercy on the Beavers baseball team.

So... Go Beavs!

Anonymous said...

OSU 9 UNC 3

It's over!

Anonymous said...

As an alum of the school with the most Division 1 National Titles in baseball, and a native Oregonian, I congratulate the Beavers for doing the nearly impossible. They have earned my respect.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the parents and families of these students. Not only did they travel great distances, but they endured stress, fatigue and near exhaustion.

Congratulations to the families who went the distance.
ajr