Missouri baseball coach Tim Jamieson says one-run games mean a lot. If a team can win when games stay close, he says, then its players will build confidence that will bring more wins later.
There might just be something to Jamieson’s theory.
As Missouri entered its third and final game against Texas Tech on Sunday at Taylor Stadium, its record in one-run games was 8-1. But after a two-run, ninth-inning home run by Red Raiders first baseman James Leverton turned a one-run Missouri lead into a one-run deficit, the Tigers needed all the confidence they could muster to earn the win and record their first three-game sweep in Big 12 Conference play.
Almost expectedly, they mustered enough, winning 6-5.
Missouri (31-12, 12-6 Big 12) sent the top of its order to bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Center fielder Evan Frey, who had reached first base safely in eight of his previous 14 plate appearances over the weekend, got on base by way of a four-pitch walk. After second baseman Brock Bond’s sacrifice bunt put Frey into scoring postion, right fielder Ryan Lollis, Missouri’s leading RBI producer, turned the first pitch he saw into a double down the right field line to drive in Frey and tie the game at 5. Missouri had again avoided disaster in the home half of the ninth inning.
But, having survived so many close games already in the season, it seemed as though the Tigers had too much confidence to let the game continue into extra innings.
Designated hitter Jacob Priday came to bat following Lollis’ double.
But with a runner on second and one out, the Red Raiders wanted to avoid Priday, who had already hit two home runs and a double to drive in four of Missouri’s runs. So, the Red Raiders called on A.J. Ramos, who started Friday night’s game, to replace reliever Travis Young following Lollis’ double.
Ramos’ first task was to issue an intentional walk to Priday. But the decision to have Ramos intentionally walk the first batter he faced seemed odd for Texas Tech (25-21, 7-13 Big 12). After warming up and preparing to pitch, the walk might have taken away much of Ramos’ control.
Whether or not that was the case, Ramos followed the intentional walk of Priday by unintentionally walking Missouri catcher Trevor Coleman in four pitches.
With the bases loaded and his control lagging, Ramos managed to strike out Missouri left fielder Aaron Senne for the second out of the inning. But Ramos again lost control with Missouri third baseman Kyle Mach at the plate.
Ramos’ second pitch to Mach sailed past catcher Matt Smith and hit the backstop behind home plate. Lollis stole home on the wild pitch to win the game.
After the game, Frey said the team’s previous success in similarly close situations made the dramatics feel almost routine.
“That’s not the first time we’ve been there,” he said confidently. “We know how to win.”
Despite having gone 0-for-4 in his first four at bats of the game, Lollis said he relishes opportunities to perform in the clutch.
“I love being in those pressure situations,” he said. “We’re confident that we can win any game.”
After hosting Missouri State for one game on Wednesday night at Taylor Stadium, Missouri will face perhaps its most difficult test next weekend. The Tigers, now alone in second place in the Big 12 and 3½ games out of first, are set to face Texas (37-12, 17-4 Big 12), the conference’s top team, in Austin. The Tigers swept the Longhorns over three games when they last met last year, but Jamieson said that this year’s series will put the Tigers’ confidence to the test.
“I have a feeling that it’s going to be pretty tough heading down there (to Texas) this time,” he said. “But I think we’re in great shape.”