Baseball is a game of inches. You take it one pitch at a time. The ball has to fall the right way.
And lots of other clichés.
In the first game of the College World Series, the outcome laid primarily on the results of two hits. One by Mississippi State, the other by Oregon State.
The Beavers had jumped out to an early lead, after which MSU got hot at the plate and jumped ahead of OSU, only to have the lead re-taken by Oregon State.
Then, in the eighth inning, MSU’s Wes Rea stood just outside the dugout, watching, observing and learning.
“In the on-deck circle, Brett Pirtle was up before me, and the pitcher wiped twice,” Rea recalled. “Both times he wiped, he was going down his chest, he went change-up and he got a swing-and-miss. I feel like he’s a starting pitcher and when he’s really feeling a pitch he’s gonna stick to it. So I was the plate and he wiped. I already thought he was sitting on a change-up situation, then he wiped and it boosted my confidence a little bit more.”
With the knowledge gained from scouting and the hot bat he’d been swinging all postseason, Rea watched the change-up come to the plate, waited, then swung and with the crack of the bat MSU’s first baseman sent one lining to the outfield, scoring two of his teammates and taking a 5-4 lead his team would ultimately never give up.
“I was fortunate enough he threw one over the middle of the plate I was able to do something with,” Rea said.
The lead, however, was certainly in danger of being lost with two outs left in the game. All-American closer Jonathan Holder watched the batter in front of him with two men on base behind him. In the bottom of the ninth inning, OSU could take a lead and seal the victory, sending MSU to the losers’ bracket after day one.
With two outs and every eye on him, Holder wound up, followed through and let the ball fly toward OSU’s Danny Hayes.
The ball went flying. And kept flying, deep across the sky over right field.
“That ball…That ball was well-hit,” John Cohen said with a wry grin.
As the ball sailed through the air, MSU’s dugout rose to their feet. The stadium behind them did the same.
This was the last pitch. One way or the other, the game ended here.
“I think everybody might have had a shaky feeling there,” Holder said with a laugh. “I left a curveball hanging for a second there. He hit it pretty good.”
The ball kept sailing, with right fielder Hunter Renfroe sprinting underneath it.
Then, Renfroe stopped, just before the wall, and turned. His glove went into the air and the ball fell in. The Maroon-clad fans just feet away from him raised their arms in triumph, while those in the dugout hurdled the fence and chased Holder down at the mound.
The Bulldogs won.
“Like Coach Cohen says, sometimes the ball falls for you and sometimes it doesn’t. It was in our favor,” Rea said.