Just not for so long. Not after 5.1 Saturday innings essential to extending Mississippi State's season another day. True, credit Jarrod Parks for a clutch ninth-inning single that gave the Bulldog offense hope. Most certainly applaud the ensuing two-run homer by Nick Vickerson that turned a 3-2 deficit into a sudden, stunning win.
But without Reed's truly gutty performance keeping the Bulldogs in contention there would have been no such practical last chance. Funny thing, too: as soon as he left the bullpen in the fourth inning, everyone had the same idea.
"We felt we had a chance to win as long as Caleb did his job," said walk-off hero hitter Vickerson. "He did. We were just fighting to the end that maybe somebody would step up and make a big play."
Reed indeed did his job, except this time he wasn't pitching to officially save a game; he was pitching to save a season. Ironically in the process he also got the decision. A special one in lots of ways, too.
"That's my first win against a SEC opponent. I told them I'll take that as the first win any day of the year!" Reed is 1-1 on this season, 4-9 on his career, and if this game doesn't count as a conference ‘win' per se it matters more because it was a NCAA victory. Not bad at all for someone specializing in closing instead of maintaining.
Yet this was the situation State was in when starter Nick Routt was running out of steam after 59 pitches, having given up a sacrifice-fly RBI in the third inning and a leadoff home run in the fourth. A couple of two-out singles signaled the need for a change, but Cohen held fire for Routt to get the ninth batter on a foul-fly. Then with the top of Florida's order back up Reed entered stage-left for an inning-ending grounder.
Followed by outing nine of the next ten he faced, interrupted only by a two-out plunking of Daniel Pigott in the sixth. "My plan was just get outs and throw strikes, that's what you have to do against this order. If you start waking people and get them in rhythm, that's when they really hurt you." Which the Gators had proven in Friday's 11-1 blowout, as five of the first six batters walked by MSU pitching scored one way or another.
Don't get the idea that three-plus inning scoreless stretch came as easily as it looks now on the scorecard. Reed was working. This was a Florida order able to unload at any at-bat with a run, or two, that would have handed the Dogs perhaps an impossible deficit. But this wasn't exactly the same Reed that threw two 2.0 relief stints against Gators back in April, as good as he was then allowing just two hits, no runs, and six strikeouts.
Reed brought a new tool into tournament time.
"I developed a changeup actually a few weeks ago, just for the postseason," he said. "It really, really has been a huge pitch for me the past few weeks." This isn't the first time Reed has morphed mid-season. Last year the coaches changed his arm slot, make that slots now on short notice and made it work. Now the repertoire is further expanded with the pace-changer.
"That really helps with lefthanded hitters for me because at the beginning of the year I really struggled against them. Now I have two pitches that run away from them and can really keep them off-balance, that's the key for me." Good stuff…but Reed was already brutal on most right-handers. Has this helped? Not so much technically, as tactically.
"That's right. It's not on the scouting report. We always talk about if you develop something late in the season it's not on everybody's radar. When I threw it against Southern Miss the other day, they had no idea I had one." They do now after Reed shut them out the last three innings of State's 3-0 victory to open NCAA play.
Florida, now, at least they had a notion. That didn't help though when the Gators made their last bid to put the game away. It came after State had pulled off their first two-run rally, in the bottom of the seventh, for a tied score. Florida's Mike Zunino, lethal against MSU pitching of late, guessed right on a slider and lofted it alllllmost out of the park. Fortunately it was to the very deepest part; unfortunately that also meant CF C.T. Bradford had a little too far to run, and it fell for a double.
Two outs later another drive to center, this one a lower but faster shot, got beyond a played-in Bradford for a RBI triple. This meant the fourth run was on third base. "We were down 3-2 and I knew that if I kept the game right there we had a chance to come back in the ninth," Reed said. He did with a nasty two-seam fastball in on the hands of Pigott, who put it up and on a tailing-away course from SS Jonathan Ogden who still managed a most remarkable running grab to keep the one-run deficit.
Otherwise Reed made well-picked use of the changeup to beat a few batters, particularly those who might have taken advantage of how his in-sliders move to go over the rightfield fence. It needs noting that changeups are not entirely ‘new' to Reed. "In high school I had a really good one. I don't know what happened, it kind of just disintegrated is the only way I have to explain it! But I'm starting to get a feel back for it."
Reed also wanted it known how his catcher Wes Thigpen had a fine feel for Florida's offense. "Thiggy called great pitches behind the plate."
Speaking of feel, Cohen played it that way in the top of the ninth as well after Reed—who snared out-two himself on a bullet back to the mound—gave up a double to Smith and walked Fontana so that Guess Who had another chance at a big hit. "I went out and chatted with him," the coach said, as he had debated walking Zunino to get at a lefthanded hitter in a matchup.
"But I read his body language, Caleb wanted the baseball there. And he is our most proven performer out of the pen." Now, he is a SEC/NCAA winner out of the pen with both his proven fastballs and the new changeup.
"If you can't get people out with what you do, you have to change it. I've been getting people out but if I'm going to keep winning and competing I have to come up with different things to do. Make the ball move certain ways, and that's what I've been doing all year."
The only Saturday downside was that Reed, with 12 saves this season, remains one shy of tying the program record. If it comes Sunday that would suit him just fine. No, don't laugh, not even after 82 tough pitches on a hot day. There are lots of other fresh or rested relievers at the ready and Cohen has a good feeling about the bullpen. Buttttt…"If it comes down to it, we'll see how Caleb feels about getting us an out or two."
Sure, like they actually will have to ask how he feels.
"Against Ole Miss I think I threw fifty-something pitches on Friday, I came back and threw three pitches Saturday to get the save. So I'll be ready tomorrow if they need me, for sure."