Missouri baseball rides momentum swings, upsets Texas A&M

Friday, April 29, 2011 | 10:53 p.m. CDT; updated 2:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 30, 2011

COLUMBIA — The game should have been over.

It should have been over during the seventh-inning stretch, when Texas A&M led Missouri 6-1 and still had John Stilson, one of the best pitchers in the Big 12 Conference, in the game.

It should have been over when the Tigers scored seven runs in the bottom of the seventh, a vicious cycle of blown opportunities finally broken.

And it should have been over when the Aggies killed Missouri's most promising moment of the season and responded with three runs in the top of the eighth.

No. The Tigers stuck around for another inning-and-a-half of bizarre baseball and tapped into an unexpectedly deep well of confidence, beating No. 6 Texas A&M, 10-9. 

"We made the decision that we weren't going to let our seven-run inning go to waste," MU catcher Ben Turner said. "We've had pitchers who have picked us up all year, and it's about time we picked them up."

After reliever Phil McCormick, the Tigers' most reliable pitcher this season, gave up the three runs in the top of the eighth, Blake Brown ran in from right field, anxious to see how his teammates were handling the shock.

He saw the fight remaining in everyone's eyes. He saw the game still wasn't over for Missouri (18-24, 5-10 Big 12).

"It was a lot better than I expected when I came into the dugout," Brown said. "I don't think anybody was worried. I don't know how to explain it."

Designated hitter Jonah Schmidt could. He'd seen McCormick keep the offense in games all season. It was the offense's turn to keep McCormick in it.

"I went up to him and told him to get ready to close it out in the ninth," Schmidt said.

MU coach Tim Jamieson watched how his players reacted. Later, he said he wondered whether McCormick had been mentally prepared to pitch after Missouri's seventh inning. But the pitcher had kept the Tigers within one, 9-8, and Jamieson had a feeling that, after seeing the light in a series win over Baylor last weekend, his players still had something left.

"You could feel the energy on the bench," he said. "I really thought that if we kept it to a run, the guys believed they could come back. We haven't had that feeling very often this year, but over the last 10 days we have."

Missouri failed to score with the bases loaded in the eighth, but McCormick came back in the ninth and closed out the Aggies.

Texas A&M (29-13, 14-5) sent closer Joaquin Hinojosa, who has the third-most saves in the conference, to the mound.

But the conference's best team suddenly looked shaky against the worst team. Hinojosa hit Ryan Ampleman. Then he hit C.J. Jarvis. Then he hit Conner Mach.

With the bases loaded, Eric Garcia fell behind 0-2. He fouled off balls and waited as Hinojosa continued to struggle with his control. Hinojosa threw the fourth ball. Garcia walked to first, and Ampleman scored.

Schmidt fell behind 0-2, soon after. Now, with the game tied, it seemed as if it wasn't in fact over.

But Schmidt meant what he'd said to McCormick, so he waited.

"It was really big to get this one," Schmidt said later. "We wanted to bail him out."

Hinojosa threw a ball. Then another. The idea of scoring both the tying and winning runs on walks seemed crazy. But then, so did scoring seven runs, and so did falling behind again afterward.

The last pitch of the game was a ball, and Sal Belfonte, pinch-running for Jarvis, crossed the plate for the winning run.

Jamieson said it didn't feel like the win was going to happen until the game finally ended. But Turner knew otherwise. He still felt like a winner, even after giving up a lead in the eighth.

"Obviously we were a little bit shell-shocked, but at the same time we had just scored seven runs," he said. "They may have one of the best pitching staffs in the nation, but we had scored eight on them. What were one or two more?" 

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