Oklahoma leading charmed life at World Series
Making their own breaks, cashing in on opponents' mistakes, Sooners move two wins from program's first national championship since 1994
It was the fourth inning and Oklahoma starter David Sandlin was beginning to look like David Sandlin again.
In Omaha Wednesday afternoon, taking on Texas A&M in the Sooners’ first try at reaching the Men’s College World Series best two-of-three championship series, the 6-foot-4 right-hander began the game so well.
The Owasso product struck out the side in the first inning, pitched around a pair of two-out Aggie singles in the second and a single hit in the third. But here came the fourth and bad things were happening.
Not only did Sandlin walk Austin Bost and give up a single to Ryan Targac to begin the frame, he’d began shaking off catcher Jimmy Crooks’ signals, wanting to throw off-the-plate slider after off-the-plate slider even as the Aggies had quit swinging at it.
Crooks, of course, was just the middle man, making Sooner skipper Skip Johnson, a fantastic pitching coach long before Oklahoma chose him to run its program, the one he was really shaking off.
Given what eventually happened, history will show it was Sandlin’s dominance — seven innings, one run, five hits, 12 strikeouts — and Crooks’ three-run first-inning blast that pushed Oklahoma to its 5-1 victory.
Yet it could have been a whole different story had Crooks not walked to the mound after Targac’s single and given his pitcher a talking to.
It is the great thing about baseball and the great thing about the Sooners, too.
Games are decided by the smallest things, things that don’t show up in a boxscore or things that do, yet leave no paper trail of their echoing impact and Oklahoma just keeps delivering those things.
Once upon a time, the Sooners were 18-12, having dropped two of three in back-to-back conference series against their biggest rivals, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Since, they’ve gone 27-10, finished a victory short of the Big 12 regular season crown, won the Big 12 tournament, won the Gainesville Regional over Florida, won the Blacksburg Super Regional over No. 4 national seed Virginia Tech and now will play for the program’s first national championship since 1994.
In the fourth, before Crooks approached the mound, ESPN produced a graphic detailing how Sandlin’s slider came with a higher spin rate than the typical major league slider, more high-to-low movement than a typical major league slider and more side-to-side movement than a typical major league slider.
What ESPN did not tell viewers with a graphic or anything else was that Sandlin entered having allowed 35 earned runs over his previous 43 2/3 innings, which is not terrific at any level.
But Crooks walked to the mound and Sandlin found the magic.
He remembered he had a mid-90s fastball and quit being afraid to use it. He pounded the strike zone with all his pitches, walking only one, while his dozen Ks became the most ever delivered at the World Series by a Big 12 pitcher.
After Crooks’ visit, Sandlin retired the next six Aggies he faced. After Dylan Rock opened the top of the sixth with a home run, Sandlin again retired the next six Aggies he faced.
Because the Sooners have not even trailed since walking into Charles Schwab Field, they have all their pitching intact heading into the championship series, which begins Saturday.
Trevin Michael may not be able to throw two or two-plus innings for two or three straight days once there, yet because Oklahoma hasn’t lost, earning two more days off, the reliever Johnson trusts most ought to be fresh after throwing 2 2/3 innings last Friday, two more on Sunday and two more today.
Though the Sooners have made too many outs on the bases, their relentless aggression has paid off in the general stress they cause opponents, A&M committing two errors against them five days ago, Notre Dame committing an error that led to three unearned runs three days ago and the Aggies committing two today, leading to another unearned Sooner run.
Would you believe Peyton Graham and Tanner Tredaway, Oklahoma’s two- and four-hole hitters, are riding twin 17-game hit streaks? Or that, before striking out in the seventh inning, Sooner first baseman Blake Robertson had reached base eight straight times?
Or that, as a whole, while hitting a reasonable .298, Oklahoma’s on-base-percentage is a fantastic .414, and that left fielder Kendall Pettis, who keeps showing up on SportsCenter for his defense, though hitting .260, somehow carries a .444 on-base percentage, one point off lead-off hitting right fielder John Spikerman’s team high?
Or that it’s all happening without Brett Squires, Oklahoma’s .310 hitting, .516 slugging designated hitter, who suffered a broken hand getting hit by a pitch his second plate appearance of the World Series.
In a sport of moments and plays, so many of them in every game, the Sooners are making more than everybody else.
Two more wins and they’re national champions.
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