First thing is first: Stanford played great this weekend. They hit clutch home runs pretty much every time they needed one and kept one of the most prolific collegiate offenses in check to advance on to the Super Regional round, and they did it all while having to play five games in four days. They were the better baseball team this weekend and they'll head to Vanderbilt while Indiana will stay put. They deserve a ton of credit, but if you're a Stanford fan looking for adulation, this is all you're gonna get. This blog is for the Hoosiers and, in my firm belief, they got absolutely hosed by a decision that has no rational basis.
And I'm hella mad.
You play all season for the playoffs. You play well enough and you get to host the first round. You play better than that, they'll let you host the second round (assuming you advance). In baseball, being the home team has its own tactical advantage built in: you always get the last shot. Basketball, football ... there are no such advantages built into the rules. Your homefield advantage comes from the crowd's ability to disrupt the opponent and your own familiarity with the facility. These are intangible qualities that have proven to be some of the most important and magical things about sports, but there's nothing in the rule book that guarantees the home basketball team can shoot until they miss if they're down in the last two minutes, or whatever analogy you want to make.
No matter how big the visiting team's lead is, they have to come out for the bottom of the frame and get three more outs to end the game. The clock won't save them- it's three recorded outs or you lose. Furthermore, the intangible benefits like crowd noise are somewhat neutralized in baseball, as you can't cause communication issues like in basketball and football by drowning out the communications between players and coaches; first: because the majority of baseball communication is done through non-verbal signals. And second: if they have something really important to say they can just stop the game and huddle up on the mound and talk.
It's what makes baseball dumb. It's what makes baseball beautiful.
Also the crowd can still have some effect on the game, but there's a reason you don't hear about how loud and boisterous baseball fans are all the time. It's a game built on quiet suspense instead of raucous emotion because of all the built-in stops and pauses. That said, sometimes something incredibly magical happens like this:
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I apologize to any Reds fans for kicking you in the dick right after the loss, but as a Pirates' fan I needed a pick-me-up and this always does the trick.
So the NCAA will have to explain to me (they won't) how Indiana got what they bargained for as a national seed when they had to play the role of the visiting team in what essentially became a best of 3 series against Stanford. But maybe that's not what we should be focused on, though I won't tell you how to cope with the loss. I'm writing about it because it's better to write about that than about what actually happened in the game. If you came for a recap, I suppose I owe you that and here it is:
IU raced out to a three run lead, thanks mostly to a 2-run bomb from Kyle Schwarber. They went into a rain delay for 3 hours that cost them Brian Korte, who had been cruising through his first appearance since his injury. He let two reach before Smith decided he didn't have it and his replacement, Thomas Belcher, let two cross the plate before getting out of the inning.
Stanford would eventually tie it up on a solo shot, the Hoosiers would take it back in the 7th on an RBI infield single and with two outs left to punch their ticket to Super Regionals, some dude who's name I'm not even gonna look up hit a two-run no-doubter to right field and the Pingbats' season was over. The main reasons IU lost the past two nights was the inability to prevent the long ball and a consistent failure to get timely hits with men on base. Two things that hadn't been a problem all year became a problem across the span of two games and it ruined an incredible year for an incredible program.
I'll close this with the most important part of any season ending post: by thanking Tracy Smith for bringing this program to prominence. I'd thank all the players by name but that's not necessary; you're all high-quality men and high-quality ball players. There cannot possibly be a tougher way to see your season end and I can't imagine how tough the next few days will be to deal with. Thank you for your hard work and dedication, like Tracy said: you're all Indiana kids because you chose to play for Indiana, and as an Indiana kid, I can confirm it's the best kind of kid to be.
One final aside: if you are Pittsburgh Pirates' GM Neal Huntington and you're reading this- do whatever is necessary to draft Kyle Schwarber. Thanks.