Baseball – what a game.
America's pastime is probably dubbed that because you never know what is going to happen and anything can and will. Americans love the unpredictable and that's why baseball has national allure.
Sunday's rubber game against the visiting, 10th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks – won by Ole Miss 5-4 - brought that thought into focus more sharply.
In the top of the third inning of a scoreless game, with two outs and a Hog runner on first, Arkanssa RF Jake Dugger hit a high – but normally routine – pop up to Reb 2B Justin Henry. Out of the inning, right? Well, sure, but how the Rebs got out was anything but conventional. At the last instant, Henry lost the ball in the sun and shielded his head to keep from getting plunked. Meanwhile, Hog runner Matt Willard was digging around the bases and broke for home. Alertly, Henry found the bouncing ball, whirled and threw a strike to C Justin Brashear to nail Willard at home by two steps.
The play ended up with the predictable results – the Rebs get out of the inning and go in to bat with no damage, but the gods of baseball had to make it more interesting than that. If they didn't, it wouldn't be baseball, it seems.
The Rebs punched across two runs in the bottom of that frame when Reb 3B Chris Coghlan fought off a Shaun Seibert fastball to bloop an opposite-field, unorthodox double into shallow left field and then followed in the fourth with one run on a C.J. Ketchum single and a Justin Brashear double off the wall that plated C.J. all the way from first. Nothing crazy there, really, but C.J. is not known for his prowess – or speed – on the basepaths and if Brashear's blast had not caromed off the wall kind of funky past the chasing Razorback centerfielder, who made several sterling plays on the weekend, C.J. never scores from first.
Throughout the game, Hog C Brian Walker was catching, well, hell from the Rebel fans. Walker had been ejected from Saturday's game for arguing a call from the home plate umpire. He threw a temper tantrum for all to see when he was thrown out. Bad move on his part. Fans do not forget, just as they did not forget that Walker had mouthed off at the ump on Friday night as well and had "shown up" the Rebs a couple of times with behind-the-plate antics in the decisive Arkansas win.
The Ole Miss fans were not going to allow Walker to forget his transgressions and it obviously affected his play the whole game as he dropped two popped fouls – the second which allowed Zack Cozart a second chance at an RBI, which he delivered on – and went hitless in four at-bats, including three strikeouts.
But just as it appeared the Rebels had the game under control – leading 4-2 heading into the eighth, up jumped the devil in the form of one of the most frustrating visuals in this sacred game. Walks. Hate ‘em. Literally hate ‘em. Nothing in college baseball gets my blood boiling because of the unpredictable nature of the game, except free passes to batters who had done nothing in previous innings.
Rebel pitchers gave up three in a row to load the bases. I was in the press box literally bordering on insanity.
This is where the rare case predictability of baseball comes into play. You just know in your heart when your team makes an error or walks a batter or two that your team is going to pay dearly. Sunday, Danny Hamblin, one of the SEC's RBI leaders, was the culprit. With no outs, he lined a double down the left field line to tie the game at 4-4.
Then just as abruptly, back to the unpredictable. Reb P Will Kline, who had loaded the bases with the third walk and given up the double to Hamblin, proceeded to strike out three of the next four Hog batters and get out of a dire jam. Who could have predicted that?
With the momentum turned in Arkansas' favor, coming from behind to tie the game and with their ace closer – Devin Collis – cruising on the mound, the likely scenario for the Rebs was not a positive one.
But, it's baseball and baseball is as fickle and strange as weird Aunt Edna, the one with the moustache who always seems to have a little too much vino at family gatherings.
The Rebs responded with a pinch hit single by Jon Jon Hancock, who hasn't found many open spots in opposing defenses of late, a sharp single by Henry moving pinch runner Cody Overbeck to third, and a single up the middle by Coghlan to give the Rebs their first walk-off victory of the season.
Edge-of-the-seat stuff, but certainly not uncommon for this grand old game called baseball.
To be honest, I don't know how much more of this stuff this old ticker can handle. Anyone for a nice game of checkers?
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