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From the Bird’s Nest: Rice leftovers

It was a beautiful day for a drive yesterday.

Normally I pick up a rental car when I’m doing a midweek game, but yesterday was so gorgeous I chose to take my car.

Mainly because it was a “top-down” day.

I stopped at a drive thru in Iowa to get a bite for lunch and went ahead and put the top down on my convertible.  The rest of the drive was more than pleasant.

When going to Houston, you never know what traffic congestion will be like when you arrive, so I always leave early.  I got to H-town around 3:30 and had an hour to kill so I stopped at a Starbucks near campus and read until it was time to go to the park.

Reckling Park, the home of the Rice Owls, is a great facility.  It’s not as big as Alex Box Stadium, but has a lot of the same amenities.  And, with the Texas Medical Center close by, there are lots of tall buildings just past the outfield, giving it quite a picturesque look.  Had a chance to visit for a few minutes with John Sullivan, the Rice SID.  John tragically lost his mother during the NCAA regional last year and had to leave suddenly after our final game with Rice in the regional.  I didn’t find out about it until he had already left and seeing him yesterday gave me an opportunity to offer my condolences in person.

Recorded pregame with Robe, but didn’t see Wayne Graham anywhere.  I guess the Rice skipper was in the clubhouse.  I like Graham a lot.  He’s a great story.  Spent many years at San Jacinto junior college before taking the Rice job twenty years ago.  He’s 75 now but still spry.  He doesn’t coach third base anymore, but only gave that up two years ago.  Graham had a brief major league career with the New York Mets back in the 60′s.  His manager was Casey Stengel and Graham wears Casey’s number 37 to honor him.  He’s built an outstanding program at Rice and his ego isn’t so big that he won’t come and play at Tigue Moore Field.  The Owls visit on May 10th.

It was gametime and I didn’t know it but I was about to witness something very bizarre over the next 2:53.

Jordan Nicholson started for the Cajuns.  Rice got a leadoff single and a two out walk but Nicholson got out of it with a ground ball.

That was the beginning of a strange pattern.

In the second, Nicholson got two outs before surrendering a base hit and a hit batsman.  But a fly ball to left ended the second.

The Cajuns got two in the third on three hits, including a two out single by Mike Petello to take a 2-0 lead.  Rice got a two out walk and stolen base to put a man in scoring position before a grounder to Greg Fontenot ended the inning.

Three innings.  Rice had stranded five batters.

In the fourth, it was a one out walk followed by a two out single.  Again, runners in scoring position.  But Nicholson ended that inning by getting leadoff hitter Keenan Cook on a called third strike.  Two more runners stranded.

From the fifth through the eighth, things got really interesting.  Rice had the leadoff man on in all four innings.  A leadoff single in the fifth followed by a forceout gave Rice a runner at first with one out.  Anthony Rendon, Rice’s leading hitter who the Cajuns walked four times on the night, singled to put runners at second and third after Petello’s throw to third was late.  Rendon, one of college baseball’s best players, had already walked 43 times on the season.  Michael Fuda then hit a high chopper that third baseman Jordan Bourque made a great play on to keep the ball in the infield and save a run.  With the bases loaded and one out, Michael Ratteree hit a fly ball to shallow right for the second out and Nicholson got Ryan Lewis to ground to Bourque, who stepped on third for the final out.

Five innings.  Ten baserunners stranded.

In the sixth, Nicholson walked the leadoff hitter, but a double play erased him.  But Cook reached on an error and J. T. Chargois singled and went to second on a throw to third base.  But again, Rice was stymied as a fly out ended the inning.

Nicholson was finished after 104 pitches and six innings of work.  He scattered seven hits, hit a batter and walked four.  He stranded twelve baserunners.

Chase Traffica came on for the seventh.  He walked Rendon semi-intentionally to start the inning.  Michael Strentz promptly threw him out trying to steal.  After Michael Fuda struck out, back-to-back singles by Ratteree and Derek Hamilton gave Rice two more baserunners.  But Traffica got Ryan Lewis to ground out to first base.  Fourteen runners stranded.

In the eighth, Rice had the leadoff man on again as Craig Manuel singled.  Cook hit a comebacker that Traffica knocked down and made the play to first.  Chargois was hit by a pitch.  With runners on first and second, Shane Hoelscher hit one in the right-center gap but Mike Petello make a spectactular diving catch for the second out.  Traffica, naturally, walked Rendon to load the bases.  Using breaking balls to Fuda, Traffica fell behind 3-1, but threw another breaker for strike two.  Three and two.  Two outs.  Bases loaded.  Knowing Fuda would probably be looking for another breaking ball, Traffica threw a heater right down the middle.  Strike three called.  Inning over.  Three more baserunners stranded.

Freshman Caleb Kellogg, who is rapidly becoming one of Tony’s late inning favorites came in for the ninth.  He retired the first two batters but then hit Lewis with a pitch.  But Kellogg got the next batter to hit into a force play to end the game.

It was the only inning that Rice failed to get a runner in scoring position.

Eighteen stranded baserunners.  Wayne Graham was 75 when the game started.  He was 95 when the game ended.

Cajun pitchers allowed ten hits, all singles.  They walked six batters (Rendon four times) and hit three.

I’ve seen games where teams have had a lot of baserunners.  I’ve seen games where teams have stranded a lot of them.

But I have never seen a game where a team stranded eighteen baserunners and never scored a run.

Credit goes to the Cajuns pitchers who made big pitches when they had to.  Nicholson battled all night long.  For Traffica, it was probaby the biggest pressure situation of his young career.  Props to him for being able to throw not one, but two strikes when he had to have them in the eighth.  Kellogg has become “Special-K”.

It was a big win for the Cajuns, their third of the season over teams with an RPI in the top 25 and all of those wins on the road.  And, it certainly gets this stretch of games, where the Cajuns will play ten of eleven on the road, off to a great start.

After the game I sent Mike Waggenheim a text message about the game.  Wags did play by play for UNO for a few years and this year is doing Nicholls State.  Wags also has done minor league baseball during the summer.  Wags has become a good friend.  We’re both from the Northeast (Wags is from Philly) and we both love the game of baseball more than any other sport.  His text back to me rang so true:

“That’s the beauty of baseball.  Every game there’s a chance you’ll see something that you’ve never seen before.”

Babes

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