Light Schedule but 2 Good Games; As Super Regionals Begin, 8 Cities pray for Good Weather

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Friday, June 8.

While only a few games were played yesterday, 2 of them were noteworthy.  Even poor teams can give the crowd a good show from time to time, and that was the case as the Reds walked off the Rockies and the Jays shut down the O’s, both in extra innings.  Meantime, the college baseball road to Omaha rolls on with stops in 8 cities where the Super Regionals will take place.

The Reds and Rockies met yesterday in the early afternoon.  For the Rockies it was “getaway day”, a day no team wants to play extra innings. However, 9 stanzas weren’t enough to settle the issue. It took 13, and a walk-off bomb by Jesse Winker (wink wink, nudge nudge) for the Reds to best the Rockies, 7–5.  I have no doubt any Monty Python fans among the Reds gave Winker the benefit of that old British bit of sketch comedy where Eric Idle repeatedly said “Wink wink, nudge nudge.)  I’ve heard the line since then from people I wouldn’t have figured for  Monty Python fans. With the game a 5-5 deadlock, Joey Votto was hit by a pitch to start the home 13th.  After one man was retired, Winker stole the show and ended the game, launching a “batting practice” fastball from Rockies’ hurler Chris Rusin.

This looked like the third of a 3-game sweep for the Rockies. They had gotten to rookie starter Tyler Mahle who has found out that the stuff needed to throw a perfecto in AA isn’t the stuff that makes it in the bigs.  He needed 96 pitches to last 5 innings, where 75 is more what the manager and coaches look for.  The Rockies  were up 5-2 in the home 8th having gotten 2 runs off Amir Garrett to pad their lead.  They were ready to take down the clubhouse spread and head for the airport, homeward bound. But the Reds said “Not so fast.”  Winker entered the game in the last of the 8th, batting for Adam Duvall. He singled in that inning when the Reds plated 2 runs.  An inning later they tied it off the Rockies’ Wade Davis. The run scored on a wild pitch. After 4 shutout extra innings from the Reds’ bull pen, Winker sent everybody home happy.

North of the border, another miserable team rallied late for a badly needed victory. The Blue Jays had been flattened by the Yankees much as Dave Winfield once obliterated a seagull when the Jays still played outdoors. Returning to their nest, they took on the Orioles who, for them at least were red hot after beating the Mets twice.  They had a 4–1 lead heading to the home 9th before the Orioles remembered who they were. Their interim closer, Brad Brach had notched 10 scoreless outings-until suddenly he hadn’t. With one out, Luke Maile walked.  Aledmys Diaz, who has had a dreadful year, doubled him to third. Randall Grichuk doubled them both home and followed them to the plate on a single by Kevin Pillar. It was just Brach’s second blown save working in place of the injured Zach Britton.  The other save he couldn’t get was on Opening Day. With Brach towed away like Danica Patrick’s most recent race car, Miguel Castro got out of the  9th but couldn’t finish the 10th. The end began with a double by Teoscar Hernandez. Castro figured the next hitter Justin Smoak could turn into an exploding cigar, so he walked him on purpose. He struck out the next two Jays but couldn’t get past Aledmys Diaz-the same guy who led off the 8th-inning rally and may be able to spend some time above the Mendoza line.

The Jays are now 6-1 when playing extra innings, their only loss being the 13-inning affair they lost to the Yankees on Wednesday night.

It’s another one of those chaotic, wildly exciting weekends when the major leagues, for some fans at least take a back seat as 16 of the best college teams meet, dreaming of a trip to Omaha next weekend.  In Gainesville, Florida, Columbia, South Carolina and at Oregon State, not making Omaha could bee seen as a failed season by entitled fans.  Schools like Stetson and Minnesota are looking for something they haven’t enjoyed in decades, if at all. Even now, in Athens, Georgia, Conway, South Carolina, Tallahassee, Florida and Norman, Oklahoma, they’re already scratching their heads, wondering “What happened?” For 2018 at least, they’ve been left behind.  In 8 “host cities” the guys who count the money pray for good weather if they’re praying people. Most major league teams have drafted a player or 3 who are participating in the Super Regionals and may go on to Omaha.  At the highest levels in major league offices they bow their heads and ask the Almighty not to allow an injury to one of their multi-million-dollar investments. If they follow football they know about the guy who was cruelly injured in the Pro Bowl, an entirely meaningless game and never played again. Flip the coin and they want to see how their draftees play at the highest levels of college baseball.

All of the series I am about to lay down are best 2 games out of 3.  4 of these begin today, 4 tomorrow both for TV and to deal with unpredictable weather.  The first of today’s 8 super-regional games began some time ago as the Stetson Hatters faced the North Carolina Tarheels in Chapel Hill. At 2 PM Eastern, the next game begins and surprisingly it’s in California.  The Washington Huskies will face Cal. State Fullerton in Fullerton, a little town some 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles.  Unlike Chapel Hill, weather shouldn’t be an issue. While Washington is by far the bigger school, I’d put a nickel down on Fullerton on their reputation as repeated visitors to Omaha down the decades.   At 5 PM, the Minnesota Golden Gophers face Oregon State.  Like Stetson, it would be a surprise if the Gophers made Omaha. Teams from the South and from the West are usually heavy favorites because they play in better conditions.  The Gophers don’t even have the MetroDome to play in, as they did when I lived in St. Paul and listened avidly to their games. Today’s last game will feature Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.  Mississippi State vanquished both Florida State and Oklahoma in their regional. Vanderbilt had relatively soft competition in their regional, beating St. John’s and Clemson-two teams that aren’t what they used to be.

Tomorrow, while the second games of the first 4 series are played, 4 new series will begin.  Their second games will happen on Sunday, and if needed game 3 would be Monday. At Noon on Saturday this year’s number 1 ranked team opens play.  The Florida Gators take on conference rival Auburn. At 3 PM, the Duke Blue Devils battle the Red Raiders of Texas Tech in Lubbock.  Duke dismantled Georgia 8–5 and 8–4 Monday to win a free trip to Lubbock, of whom Mac Davis wrote “Happiness is Lubbock, Texas in my Rear View Mirror.” In another 3 PM start, this one in Austin, Texas, the Longhorns face Tennessee Tech. The Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech had to get by University of Mississippi, or “Ole Miss,” the school that brought the world John Grisham.  The Golden Eagles who play in the Ohio Valley Conference are a major underdog, far more so than Stetson or Minnesota.  The last series opener will take place in Fayetteville, Arkansas where the Razorbacks host the South Carolina Gamecocks. This series, along with Auburn-Florida and Mississippi State-Vanderbilt all feature teams from the Southeast Conference. Presumably whoever makes decisions at the NCAA level would rather not have too many teams from one conference in Omaha in any one season, knowing what would happen to attendance if all the teams from one conference went 1-and-done.

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