I'm not sure you could classify any 31-run baseball game as being "normal", but TCU's 16-15 win over San Diego State yesterday in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament was certainly one of the weirdest and wildest contests I've ever encountered on a diamond.
Through the first 8 innings, things looked to be going just as Jim Schlossnagle had drawn them up. The offense, led by freshmen Kevin Cron (a home run and 5 RBI) and Derek Odell (extended his hit streak to 12 with a 4-for-4 performance), exploded for 14 runs on 13 base hits. On the mound, the freshmen combination of Brandon Finnegan and Trey Teakell had held the Aztecs to just 5 hits and looked to be comfortably guiding the Frogs to an easy opening-round win as Teakell began the top of the 9th with a 14-4 lead.
And then...it all fell apart.
SDSU catcher Jake Romanski led off with a double on an 0-2 pitch. Jomel Torres then homered. 14-6. OK, nothing to see here, just a garbage-time two-run bomb. No biggie. After getting pinch-hitter Dillon Bryant to weakly ground out, Teakell then gave up back to back singles...and then a three-run bomb to left fielder Chris Wilson. 14-9. Alright guys, let's just chill out and get two outs and get out of here. The next hitter reached base on a throwing error by Davy Wright, who was filling in at catcher after Elander had been lifted to rest with a 10-run lead. Teakell then hit the next batter, which was finally enough for Schloss as he brought in Justin Scharf...who immediately gave up an RBI double to Matt Munoz. 14-10. What the hell is going on? Next batter: Romanski again, with an RBI single. 14-11. Tying run coming to the plate with one out. Holy shit. Scharf gets pulled, Kevin Allen comes in. Three batters, two wild pitches, a walk and a hit by pitch later, Allen left the game with a 14-13 lead, the bases loaded and still just one out. Now Schlossnagle goes to Stefan Crichton to put out the fire. The first batter he faced, Tim Zier, singled to left field, scoring two runs and giving the Aztecs a 15-14 lead. Meltdown complete. Oh my God. Crichton eventually got Spencer Thornton to fly out to end the inning, but the damage was done. 11 runs, 8 hits and an error. Defeat had escaped the jaws of victory and was now staring the Frogs right in the face.
Keaton Jones struck out to begin the bottom of the 9th, and the Frogs- who were leading by 10 runs just minutes earlier- were now down to their final two outs. But then Kyle Von Tungeln deposited a 1-2 pitch over the right field fence for just his second home run of the year, and TCU had a new lease on life with a 15-15 tie. I let out a big sigh of relief sitting at home, I can only imagine the weight lifted off of the collective chests in the TCU dugout as Von Tungeln rounded the bases. Davy Wright followed with a single, and then pinch hitter Josh Gonzales ripped a double that put Wright- as the winning run- on third base with just one out. Jantzen Witte was intentionally walked to load the bases, and then Brett Johnson looped a 1-1 pitch just over a drawn-in infield and Wright raced home to secure the wild and wacky 16-15 win.
The Frogs had gone from being the 1993 Houston Oilers to being the 1994 John Tyler Lions.
So how do you digest this one? Pessimists will dwell on the collapse and let doubt linger about the bullpen. Optimists will point to the fact that, finally, it was the offense bailing out the pitching and that the Frogs found a way to win even when all seemed lost.
Either way- two more wins, and TCU will have the tournament hardware in their possession. Next up, they face co-champion and #1 seed New Mexico, who pounded tournament host UNLV 13-0 last night. First pitch is 9:00pm and MWC Pitcher and Freshman of the Year Preston Morrison is expected to take the hill for TCU.