The Road Less Traveled
The season began well, with a highly touted team and a good winning streak. Then the slump set in. It was hard to close out games, losing late in the game or being unable to make up for run trouble early in the game.
After getting into the postseason by the skin of their teeth, the road did not immediately become smooth. The first game was a blowout loss, but the series was won with a rubber game and a score of 1-0.
This is not a recounting of the Arkansas Razorbacks in the super regional tournament against Baylor. This is a retelling of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals National League Division Series. The Cardinals continued to through two more difficult series, eventually turning from a Wild Card to the World Series Champions.
I’m not saying that the Razorbacks are destined for a College World Series championship, but their seasons have eerie similarities.
After losing two straight in the Southeastern Conference tournament, I was shocked to see the Razorbacks win their region. I was even more shocked to see that it was a sweep.
But then came the Razorbacks that struck fear in my soul. In the first game of the super regional on Saturday, the Baylor Bears came alive, pummeling the Razorbacks into the ground with eight runs. The Razorbacks hardly put up a fight, scoring only a single run.
The second game in the series was pegged in the Hogs favor. They were slotted as the home team and used the bottom of the ninth to their advantage. Baylor pitching collapsed, and to their own dismay, their closing pitcher, Max Garner, hit Jimmy Bosco with a pitch to bring in the tying run. Garner was replaced by Crayton Bare, who hit the first batter he faced, John Clay Reeves, to walk in the winning run for the Razorbacks.
Thus the Hogs managed to stay alive for one more night. The players took to Twitter to encourage fans that they were still on the hunt for Omaha. They tweeted about being brothers. They tweeted about being blessed. They were ready for a win-or-go-home game against the Baylor Bears.
Then came Monday night. Goose eggs kept lighting up the scoreboard. Both teams had ample chances to score but were not able to capitalize. Runners were left on base as pitchers and defensive players on both teams tallied up outs.
Finally, in the tenth inning a run came from a less than likely source. Jake Wise, yes, the catcher with a .216 career batting average, hit a groundout into left field, allowing Brian Anderson to score.
Colby Suggs and attentive outfielders ended the tenth, giving Arkansas the win and ensuring their trip to Omaha.
Most everyone says that they never give up on their team. Even Cubs fans say year after year that “this is our year,” but as the season winds down and even they must yield to reason.
Reason told me that after a poor showing in the SEC tournament, the Razorbacks weren’t going to make it to the College World Series. Reason told me that after a dry summer, the Cardinals weren’t going to make it past the NLDS, even after they’d secured the Wild Card with a Braves loss on the last day of the regular season.
We accept reason to guard our sports-loving hearts, but every now and then our team surprises us.
Most had Arkansas slotted to lose. Commentators called the Razorbacks “scrappy” but noted their “character” throughout the game Monday.
The Hogs weren’t going to have that. After Saturday’s loss, Dominic Ficociello tweeted, “Watch us be resilient.”
Maybe our reliance on reason gave them just what they needed to win the series – a doubt to prove wrong.