Sunday, May 31, 2009

Zen Dayley: About that college pitcher who threw 12 hitless innings

Texas Longhorns pitcher Austin Wood was so awesome the state capital has been renamed after him.

It's been Deadspinned. Nevertheless, it is impossible to resist passing along word about the longest college baseball game ever player, a 25-inning marathon between Texas and Boston College in a NCAA Regional game on Saturday Wood (pictured), Texas' senior closer, threw 12 1/3 innings of no-hit ball on a night when the game-time temperature was 95 F. He came on in the seventh inning and was pulled in the 20th after Boston College finally reached him for two hits. Austin Dicharry threw 5 2/3 innings of one-hit ball to earn credit for the 3-2 win.
"With the game tied 2-2 in the 20th inning, the Longhorns finally decided it was time to lift Wood, who was visibly trying to stretch out because of cramps in his leg. But when he left the field, the 5,000 or so fans still at UFCU Disch-Falk Field gave him a standing ovation. Even the Boston College players got into the act." —
That's pretty cool, for lack of a more profound word, to see that kind of sportsmanship.

Wood threw 169 pitches (John Gibbons joke goes here), 120 for strikes, fanning 14 Boston College hitters. Guys on basketball message boards were hanging on every out.'s Kendall Rogers called Woods' performance "one of the best ever by a UT pitcher," and before you spout back, "Gee, ya think?" please keep in mind that Roger Clemens is a Texas alumni.

The game was played a couple thousand miles away, in another world, really (Texas), but it was easy to imagine what it must have been like. It scarcely matters that college baseball, at least to a Canadian, has always seemed like a foreign curiosity.

There's that unsettling ping when someone makes contact with those metal bats that help entire teams hit .340 and lead to games being decided by football scores such as 19-10. That backdrop throws Wood's performance into even sharper relief. Throwing 13 shutout innings in high-run conditions such as that is like throwing back-to-back no-hitters at the new Yankee Stadium, on consecutive days.

Regardless, Austin Wood gave Seamheads everywhere something to marvel over. He's not a big-time prospect. He was a 36th-round draft choice by the Houston Astros last spring. Left unsaid is that major-league clubs are often wary of pitchers from top-ranked college teams. A big reason is that a head baseball coach (not manager, what's up with that?) will do something like letting a young pitcher throw close to 200 pitches in a weekend, since they put winning ahead of the health of young arms. (Wood threw 30 pitches in Texas' win Friday.) Who knows, perhaps Wood's performance shouldn't even be celebrated, but criticized.

Meantime, as Chris Lynch pointed out at A Large Regular, people should not forget this was made possible by some great pitching by Boston College. Reliever Mike Belfiore pitched the equivalent of a complete-game shutout, entering in the ninth and coming out after the 18th with the score still tied 2-2. He struck out 11 with no bases on balls.

However, there are times when you have to let up a little on the wonder-why and just get into the spirit of the thing. It was such a game that Boston College's head baseball coach, Mik Aoki, didn't even seem too bummed that his team lost. It was as if he realized a 25-inning game was bigger than anyone on the field.

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