With two outs in the 8th inning, Stanford sent pinch hitter Wayne Taylor to the dish with runners at the corners. Tracy Smith had turned the game over to Jake Kelzer for a four out save. I had left the press box to stand in the dissipating rain among the rest of the fans. Spending the weekend as "credentialed media" had been a blast, but the crowd had been so electric and loud for three straight days, I couldn't help but immerse myself into the atmosphere for the first time all weekend.
I wasn't disappointed. The Hoosier faithful around me lived and died with every single pitch. There was a cool confidence amongst those in attendance. Despite the precarious situation that was in front of us, two runners aboard and a scant two-run lead in our favor, the prevailing belief was that the Hoosiers would come through. They had done it enough this season that it had become the expectation, and their excellent performance during the weekend had given us no reason to think this would be any different.
But with one swing of the bat, that loud, raucous atmosphere, the one that brimmed with confidence and anticipation was sucked out of Bart Kaufman Stadium and the heavily-favored Hoosiers now find themselves on the brink of elimination, as a three-run home run by Wayne Taylor gave the Cardinal a one run lead that would later be extended to four. While the Hoosiers managed to load the bases via three straight walks in the bottom of the 9th, they failed to get the big hit, managing to only scrape out a single run before a line drive double was gloved by the second baseman it was hit directly at, and the runner on first was left to hopelessly watch him sprint to first base and double him off.
The Hoosiers staked out a three run lead in the bottom of the first, but gave two of them back almost immediately and never found the offensive rhythm again, failing to post a crooked number in any inning after the first, while Stanford managed to do it 4 times, including back-to-back three run innings in the 8th and 9th that made any comeback unlikely. Stanford's AJ Vanegas, typically the Cardinal's closer, went 5.1 innings after an early exit by the starter. While his velocity dipped from the 96-97 mph heat he started with, to 88-89 mph in his last batter, he managed to keep recording outs despite struggling with control in the rain, walking four and throwing three wild pitches.
It was a tough game to stomach from a Hoosier perspective. Stanford, a team that doesn't hit a lot of home runs, hit three out of the Bart while Indiana, a team known for their power, couldn't get one over the fence that didn't bounce off the turf first. A staff that had gotten so many clutch outs this season couldn't get one when they really needed it, and also failed to hold the lead down to 1 after it had been given up.
Unsurprisingly, at the postgame press conference, Tracy Smith, Kyle Schwarber, and Sam Travis entered with their heads up and ready to answer the questions asked of them. They didn't point fingers, they didn't lament what happened; they kept the discussion focused on what they are going to do between now and this time tomorrow, because that is all that matters to them now. Schwarber noted that they have played great ball all weekend, but they are playing for their playoff lives now and cannot lose focus.
You simply have to give the Cardinal a lot of credit: they were tasked with playing a doubleheader today, in which they needed to win both games just to secure the right to play again tomorrow and managed to do so. Now, after a long, long weekend, these two teams will meet again at 5:30 on Monday to decide Bloomington's Regional Champion. Both teams, particularly Stanford's, are going to have a dearth of fresh arms available and we could see another high scoring affair. Neither manager was ready to commit to a starting pitcher and that shouldn't come as a surprise. Very rarely do you play four baseball games in a row in the college game, and Stanford will be playing an unheard of fifth game in a row come Monday.
Finally: Stanford will also be the "home" team tomorrow, which is up there amongst my list of "dumbest things I've ever heard."