COLUMBIA — When Missouri relief pitcher Phil McCormick was told he wouldn't be on the travel roster for the Tigers' week-long road trip to begin the season, he knew things had to change.
McCormick, a redshirt sophomore, decided to make his delivery so funky that hitters would have difficulty adjusting to it. So weird that they would have to work to see the pitches coming out of his hand.
With each pitch, McCormick drew his arm behind his head then snapped it sideways to deliver the ball at a strange angle to the plate. When his arm dropped down from behind his head mid-delivery, it looked like he was swinging a bat with one arm.
"I'm pretty sure the last time I threw a pitch like that was Little League," McCormick said.
Saturday night, Missouri beat Cal. St.-Bakersfield 4-2. The Tigers scored two runs in the third and fifth innings and, with good pitching, beat the Roadrunners.
McCormick was called on in the eighth inning with the Tigers leading 4-1 over CSUB with runners on first and second. The Roadrunners on the bench had their hats turned inside out hoping for a rally. McCormick struck out first baseman Richard Escalera and outfielder Mick Gaston to strand two runners.
"They wanted a double play but I was lucky enough to get them to swing and miss," McCormick said.
For his entire pitching career, McCormick had always been a traditional pitcher. But when college teams scored runs every time he threw and the coaching staff didn't feel like he deserved to travel with the team, he was disappointed and frustrated.
"Dropping down is as close to a last ditch effort to get him on the field," coach Tim Jamieson said. "It was really something he took ownership of."
So while most of the team was in Arizona, McCormick went to work changing something he had been doing the same way since he was in Little League. Pitching coach Tony Vitello told McCormick to work on it without pitching off a mound but McCormick was so happy with the results after a week of doing it that he pitched off a mound defying orders and even recorded video evidence of it and tried to send it to Vitello.
"I really wanted to see what I could do," McCormick said. "I had to defy him a little bit and he was really excited to see it but I couldn't send it via e-mail. I noticed the difference right away the next week when I got to throw against hitters and they couldn't hit the ball."
Last Sunday, after closer Brad Buehler allowed a game-tying grand slam to Kansas, Jamieson called on McCormick to escape the ninth inning with the score still tied. The Jayhawks had runners on first and third with one out and McCormick's heart started pounding as he jogged in from the left-field bullpen.
"There's a guy who Kansas University probably didn't know who that was and he's been here for three years," Vitello said.
McCormick struck out Jason Brunansky on three pitches and then got James Stanfield to line out to outfielder Ryan Lollis.
"I just wanted to be on the mound here at Missouri," McCormick said. "I was willing to do anything to do it."
Missouri outfielder Ryan Lollis robbed Escalera of a home run in the second inning by jumping up against the wall.
"I guess it would have been a home run," Lollis said. "I just jumped and caught it. It sets the tone and it carries on for the rest of the game."
Missouri (31-23) closer Brad Buehler loaded the bases in the ninth and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch while the tying run advanced to second base before getting a strikeout to end the game.
Senior third baseman Kyle Mach extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 games. Mach went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
The Tigers host the Roadrunners in the regular season home finale at 1 p.m. Sunday at Taylor Stadium. The Big 12 conference tournament starts on Wednesday in Oklahoma City.