Flowers and Cupcakes Alert: The following review will be almost 100% positive and rosy because the Longhorn baseball team has given us no reason for major concern thus far. If that sort of approach bothers you, we're afraid this isn't the post for you.
The Texas baseball team hosted Penn State from the Big Ten in Austin this past weekend and took all four games from the Nittany Lions. The first compliment we'd like to offer is to head coach Augie Garrido, who scheduled double-headers on both of the first two Saturdays of the season. The fact that the Longhorns played nine games in the year's first ten days is not only a treat for fans, but also served as a great jump-start for the team itself. Just a week and a half into the 2009 campaign, these guys have won nine and lost none; they have already won games in almost every way possible; the starting pitching has been nearly unhittable; and the whole team has to be building serious confidence with every victory.
Quick recaps of each game followed by some general thoughts after the jump.
Friday: Texas 9, Penn State 2. The entire difference in this one was the classic college baseball staple of the Big Inning. St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa likes to say that the goal of a pitching staff is to avoid allowing "crooked numbers" to make their way into the opposing team's line score. Texas put up a very crooked 7 in the fourth inning largely thanks to the ineptitude of the Lions' second baseman. After a one-out, two-run bomb by Connor Rowe, Travis Tucker and Brandon Loy hit back-to-back ground balls to second and PSU's Landon Nakata botched the throw each time. Since those two plays should have ended the inning, Texas' remaining five runs in the frame were all unearned--but to the Longhorns' credit, they took full advantage of the opportunity. In our opinion, Nakata's biggest mistake was not committing those two errors: his biggest mistake was leaving his home state of Hawaii to play baseball in Pennsylvania. On the mound, Chance Ruffin had another solid start, allowing two runs over six innings. Andrew McKirahan and Sam Stafford, both in their collegiate debuts, combined for three shutout innings out of the 'pen.
Saturday Game One: Texas 6, Penn State 2. Texas once again used a big fourth inning as the entire difference in the game, this time a four-spot. Texas needed only two hits in the inning, as Penn State starter Scott Kelley imploded with a hit batsman, two walks, and two wild pitches. Connor Rowe showed off some versatility with an RBI single on a bunt, Cameron Rupp scored on one of the wild pitches, and Travis Tucker hit a single to center for the other two RBI. Taylor Jungmann's second start was as exciting as his first, as he went six innings of the seven-inning affair and allowed only one run. Stayton Thomas had a troubling outing, starting the seventh inning and loading the bases with a single, a hit batsman, and a walk before being pulled without retiring a single Lion. Austin Wood covered for him, though, as he induced an RBI double-play ball from the first batter he faced and a game-ending comebacker from the second. That run charged to Thomas would be Penn State's last of the weekend.
Saturday Game Two: Texas 1, Penn State 0. True baseball fans love nothing more than a 1-0 pitcher's duel, and that's what they got in the nine-inning nightcap. Each team managed only five hits. Texas manufactured a run in the second inning with singles by Tant Shepherd and David Hernandez, which were mixed in while Penn State starter TJ Macy struck out the side. Those were three of Macy's seven K's on the afternoon, as the man who is quickly emerging as the Lions' ace went the distance in throwing eight beautiful innings. We agree with BSD that Macy's performance shows once again why pitchers' won-loss records amount to the most useless stat in baseball. Fortunately for Texas, Cole Green threw eight and a third slightly more beautiful innings. He picked up seven strikeouts of his own before yielding to Austin Wood for the final two outs of the ballgame.
Sunday: Texas 9, Penn State 0. Brandon Workman turned in the best pitching performance in a weekend filled with great picthing performances by no-hitting Penn State while facing the minimum of 27 hitters. Three Lions reached base (two walks and one error), but all were retired in double plays including a lovely strike 'em out, throw 'em out by Cameron Rupp in the third, and the third was caught stealing in a pitch out. We were watching this one online, and the first Penn State hitter of the ninth provided a reminder of one of the worst baseball movies ever: the Kevin Costner vehicle "For Love of the Game." Costner's character has a perfect game going into the ninth, when a young buck for the Yankees hits a grounder up the middle, off Costner's glove, and the shortstop saves the day with a great scoop and throw to get the out. David Hernandez did exactly that for Workman to get the first out of the final frame, 1-6-3. Workman then struck out the remaining two batters, his ninth and tenth of the game, to complete the no-no. On the offensive end, it was a total team effort with Tant Shepherd absolutely killing the ball in going 3-for-4.
- This was Texas' second no-hitter within the last year, as Kenn Kasparek threw one in April of 2008 against the Longhorns' next opponent, Texas State.
- Penn State is not an awful club, and Texas allowed a total of four runs on the entire weekend. That's four runs in 34 innings. This is looking like one excellent pitching staff. Which is good, because the single most important feature of Texas' most successful teams under Garrido has been stellar pitching.
- Next weekend's series against Stanford at Palo Alto lost a little bit of its luster with the Cardinal being swept by Cal State-Fullerton this past weekend, but should provide a great road test anyway. It will be Texas' last non-conference weekend series before opening Big XII play the following weekend against Mizzou.
All in all, it's hard not to be really excited about this squad's performance so far. They seem to have come out of the gate in midseason form, which has been unusual for Texas teams of the past few years. If they can keep the momentum up and continue to improve as the season wears on, the Omaha sky is the limit.