COLUMBIA — Dusty Ross makes pig noises. Phil McCormick knows what to say to rile up his teammates. Ryan Clubb simply yells.
Now, the Missouri baseball pitchers have taken the circus sideshow from the bullpen to the dugout. And it's exactly what the team needed.
The Tigers won both games of a doubleheader against Le Moyne (Syracuse, N.Y.) on Saturday at Taylor Stadium, taking the first game 7-4 and the second 4-2. And the Tigers believe they have found a source of positive energy in moving the rambunctious group of relievers to the dugout.
"I think it’s a big deal," said pitcher Matt Stites, who held Le Moyne to five hits and two runs in the first game. "The bullpen pitchers don’t have a whole lot to do in the first couple of innings of games, so they have nothing better to do than yell and get the guys going. I think it’s helped a lot."
All season, coach Tim Jamieson had noticed the contrasting moods between practices and games. Missouri (6-9) struggled early in the season, and from the beginning it has seemed as if Jamieson's baseball gods have been against the team.
"In the first game, Jonah (Schmidt) is up with two outs and runners in scoring position," Jamieson said. "He hit a fly ball, and the left fielder lost it. He put his hands up like this" — Jamieson waved his hands above his forehead as if he was shielding his eyes from the sun — "and it landed right in his glove. That’s how it’s been going. We need the baseball gods to smile on us a little bit."
Pitching coach Matt Hobbs prefers the pitchers to be in the bullpen during games, but they sat in the dugout during Tuesday's game against Gonzaga. Missouri won 5-2, and Stites said it was the best energy the team had all year. Afterward, some of the pitchers approached Jamieson and asked him if they could continue hanging out there.
"Sure, why not?" Jamieson, who had also noticed the lighter mood, told them. "As long as you don't screw around."
They screwed around just enough to dissolve the stifling feeling of pressure that Jamieson said had been present. The Tigers lost to Le Moyne 6-5 on Friday night, but even in that game the coach liked how they fought back to nearly win.
Saturday, it looked as if the team was playing with a sense of purpose. A team that knows how to win. A team that is having fun doing so.
Center fielder Brannon Champagne said the presence of the pitchers has made that difference.
"They're loud and rowdy, and I feel like that gives us a lot of energy," he said. "The morale hasn't been bad at all."
The pitchers have helped their peers, too. Stites said he was starting to feel anxious after giving up his first run in the fourth inning. When he returned to the dugout, McCormick sat Stites down and tried to rally him.
"He got into me a little bit, and after that I just felt great out there," Stites said. "I loosened up in the fifth inning after talking to Phil and I thought, 'OK, these guys can't get to me.'"
With one more game against Le Moyne at 1 p.m. Sunday and three more home series in the next two weeks, the Tigers won't be leaving Columbia any time soon, and it's safe to say the pitchers won't be returning to the bullpen any time soon, either.
"Anything we can do right right now to create positive feelings helps," Jamieson said. "We’ll take whatever we can get."