Sometimes in baseball, the biggest games and biggest moments come when you least expect it. It’s easy to look at the schedule and see “LSU”, “Vanderbilt” and think right off the bat, “those are big games”. Other times it’s not so obvious. I think the Alabama series this past weekend fall into the “not so obvious” category. There are a couple of reasons for this- one, we got some extremely gutsy performances from some players that are not necessarily “star” players- such as Mitch Slauter, Chad Girodo, and Brett Pirtle, and two for the first time this year we were able to get a walk-off win after being down late in the game. Baseball players are taught to be incredibly even keel- when I would hang out with my uncle in spring training it was absolutely fascinating to see first hand how they train players to deal with pressure situations and how to handle both success and failure from a psychological standpoint. But if there is one thing that can really get a team confident, it’s a come from behind walk-off win. And we did it back to back days- and perhaps even more importantly, it can make individual players more confident. Yes, baseball is a team sport- but the more productive players you have, the better team you have. Also, from a psychological standpoint, it’s very important for our team to KNOW that they can come back if they are presented with that situation.
Perhaps the only downside to the weekend was the fact that our starting pitchers did not get a quality start. The only good thing is I don’t have to hear about how Cohen and Butch don’t trust the bullpen- which is hilarious to me because the reason our bullpen wasn’t getting used was because we were getting a lot of great starts from our starters. A quality start to me- and I believe this is the same definition as the stat “quality start”- is six innings pitched while allowing three runs or less. Kendall Graveman came close- he pitched six innings, but allowed four runs, while Luis Pollorena pitched 4.1 while allowing five runs, and Jacob Lindgren was only able to get through three innings and while he only allowed 2 runs, one of which was unearned, he also allowed seven hits. The bad thing about Pollorena’s outing was we had a huge lead, and we allowed them to get back in the game, which is the one thing you do not want to do. We need these three guys to give us at least five every time out and we need them to be more effective than what they were this weekend. Alabama is the worst hitting team in the SEC- and they hit our starters pretty well.
Our bullpen was about as good as you can hope for this weekend. The shining star to me, was Chad Girodo. Bear in mind, this is a guy that struggled against Alabama last year. All he did is give us three quality innings- including getting MSU out of a 10th inning jam in game two when Alabama had a runner on third and less than two outs. His ERA is now lower than Ross Mitchell’s and Jonathan Holder’s. Of course, Holder was pretty awesome this weekend. On Sunday, he basically neutralized Alabama’s offense to where it almost gave our offense three free innings to score. Look, when you strike out a guy trying to bunt with a curveball, you are flithy. Holder faced 19 batters- he struck out 10 of them. Ben Bracewell was also solid in game one and really did a great job of bridging the game to Holder- and let’s not forget Ben twisting his ankle and coming back to get some more critical outs. There are not very many, if any college teams that have a bullpen as deep as MSU’s.
Then you have Mitch Slauter coming in late in game two after Cohen made a GREAT coaching decision to pinch hit for Nick Ammirati with Brett Pirtle, who had been ill in the days leading up to the Alabama series, who tied the game. It was fun to speculate who would come in since Slauter has a broken finger on his catching hand. Some people thought it would be Hunter Renfroe- but no, it was Slauter. I can only imagine what it would be like to break a finger and then decide to go out and catch 85-92 MPH fastballs- or even worse do what Slauter had to do AGAIN in game three- catch Holder’s 94 MPH fastballs. Oh, and while he was at it, he got down a key bunt in the 10th inning even though he hasn’t had an at bat on two weeks, and I can only venture to guess how much he has practiced hitting which was without a doubt very little.
The list of heroes goes on- Wes Rea went a solid four for twelve and hit a home run and two doubles as well as an RBI single which started a two out rally that ultimately tied the game. Sam Frost might have set a MSU record for bunt singles while filling in for Pirtle for game two. Hunter Renfroe hit a key home run in game two and CT Bradford showed up by hitting .500 for the weekend series with a seven hit series, highlighted by his four hit three RBI Sunday. Perhaps the most exciting thing to see was the emergence of Jacob Robson who now finds himself hitting .247 with a game tying single in the seventh and the walk-off hit in game two. His game tying hit in game three would have made Ichiro proud- right behind the pitchers mound and in front of second base. Without a doubt, he should start for us in left field at least for the time being. I think he is starting to get it as far as SEC pitching goes. The first sign I saw was actually the Sunday game against Florida when he had an opposite field double, which made me raise my eyebrows in a good way.
One of the bad things about come from behind victories is the reason your team GOT behind was because you probably screwed something up to put you in that position. That was the case with us with errors. We didn’t make a lot of errors, but we made key errors, and we paid every single time we made one. Hunter Renfroe tries to throw a ball in to the cut off man who is supposed to be at second- and instead of looking, he just assumes is there, and of course someone SHOULD have been there, and then there’s a stray ball running around while the runners are taking extra bases. Detz is still learning how to play third base, and he made a couple of errors in innings that Alabama scored runs in. One was kind of a hustle error, but it also showed his inexperience when he tried to double up a runner and he throws the ball away.
Also, we HAVE to find ways to get Adam Frazier and Alex Detz on base more consistently, or use someone that will get on base whether or not it’s one of those two. Combined they went 4 out of 25 with three RBI’s and combined they walked two times. And it’s not a coincidence that the game we scored 10 runs in, was the same game that those two had all three of their RBI’s in. We HAVE to get runners on in front of Hunter Renfroe, Brett Pirtle, Wes Rea, and maybe even now a hot CT Bradford. Now, you may be thinking- well, if our lead off and number two hitter get on, they are probably going to walk Hunter Renfroe- well, they might depending on the game situation- but you know what? If they want to take on Brett Pirtle or Wes Rea who can hit the ball a mile with the bases loaded- be my guest. And actually, if we don’t get runners on in front of Renfroe, it means that teams can really pitch around him because now there are three open bases to put him. Renfroe is so dangerous, he’s is going to be pitched carefully no matter what the situation is unless it’s a home run derby. The best remedy for that is for the guys in front of Renfroe to get on, and for the guys hitting behind him to make pitchers pay for being careful with him.
As MSU fans, how many years have we gone to a regional, and we look back at the season and we say, “man, if we had beaten, so and so, we probably host.” A lot of fans around the country say that as well. Games like this, and series like this- sometimes winning these games end up making the difference when it comes to hosting or not. We won all three, so that is extremely huge for our team in that it keeps a potential black eye off of our record. It also means that we still control our destiny, which is where you want to be as a baseball team. With RPI, SOS, ISR- everything counts. Even those games against Mississippi Valley State in February on a Tuesday. The rest of our schedule is tough from a RPI standpoint, but to me, that’s good because it means we have a chance to earn our way in and possibly move up. The next obstacle is Ole Miss in Oxford, which is a difficult place to play. And because of that, as always our team needs as much maroon as they can get into that place. So, if you are in the area and you can make it- I highly encourage MSU fans to go and support the team. It would be awesome if the grandstand was a majority maroon and white.
Until next week,