Aggie baseball fans – and, no doubt, Rob Childress and company – have been looking for just the right recipe for success in 2009. Talent is abundant, though underperforming at many times, and the concoction has taken some crazy turns to get to where it is. Grab some seemingly inexplicable home losses in mid-week games, throw in a perfect home conference record, and add a pinch of "can't win on the road."
The good flavor is certainly there, too, which is hard to see sometimes in a pedestrian 22-14 mark. Consider that the Aggies are 2-1 versus Baseball America's Top 5 (all on the road), 4-3 versus the Top 10, and 9-5 versus the Top 25. The road wins over Rice (#2 RPI) and Cal-Irvine (#7 RPI) are particularly attractive to anyone. Plus, at 8-7 in the league and just a game out of 2nd place, the goal of a Big 12 championship is still attainable.
Though the soup has had its moments, could we have finally seen the perfect recipe at Reckling Park last night? Childress and Matt Deggs shook the offensive line-up to the core, moving hot hitting Brodie Greene into the top slot, dropping Kyle Colligan into the clean-up hole to protect Luke Anders, and assembled the rest of the pieces into an order that was built upon itself and designed to keep the Aggies out of trouble.
Trouble? There was plenty of it…to the tune of five double play balls. That's a footnote to the night, but not the story.
Hitters consistently got on at the very top and bottom of the order, enabling A&M's best hitters to bat repeatedly with runners in scoring position. While this has been an Achilles heel for A&M, there's too much talent to fail with such regularity, and the persistence paid off. Brodie Greene reached base three times from the lead-off spot, Brooks Raley reached four times from the two-hole, and the result was the heart of the order driving in three runs despite a 2-for-10 performance. Keep going to the well, and you'll get water.
The bottom of the order may have been the key to the puzzle, as Caleb Shofner, David Alleman, and Adam Smith combined to hit 4-for-9 with three runs scored. Shofner also reached base on his 15th hit-by-pitch of the year, while Alleman looked overmatched early but fought back for two key hits – and his second one nearly leaving the yard. Smith did hit his sixth homer of the season early in the night, as well.
The line-up juggling certainly seemed to work, though avoiding those double plays would've likely led to a few more runs, but victories are by one – everything else is ego.
What's not ego may be the first rearing of something the 2009 club has struggled to display; a true killer instinct. Tonight, it started from the Childress and filtered its way down. Aggie fans have long played the "Rice threw their best pitchers against us" card, for whatever reason, but tonight it was the Aggies who took no prisoners. Barret Loux didn't travel to K-State, but threw just 86 pitches in five spectacular innings of work. Ross Stripling and Shane Minks threw themselves into and out of some trouble, but the killer instinct came from Alex Wilson's success in the 7th and 8th inning.
The seventh saw Wilson struggle with control, his eighth was masterful, but most importantly Childress sent the message that he was selling out to win this game. To be fair, it was probably Wilson's bullpen day – but he could have done that in the bullpen and not in the game. Anders two-run dinger in the bottom of the 8th sealed the deal, and probably Wilson's night. Nick Fleece, who's proving to be Childress' stopper, finished off the ninth and put the game away.
Only time will tell if the changes to the recipe – the lineup, the attitude, the result – are the real deal. Make no mistake, though, last night is what the 2009 team was expected to look like, and duplicating that type of performance will lead to many more wins than losses down the stretch.
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