Let’s get this out of the way up front: I’m not a baseball fan.
I don’t dislike baseball or have a bias against it; I just don’t follow it. I used to follow the Mets when I was younger, and at one point in the mid-late 1980s I was a huge fan, but the strike of 1994 cured me of being interested in baseball. I wasn’t taking a stand or anything like that, I just never started following it again after the strike ended. It helped that the Mets weren’t any good anymore.
So I don’t know much about baseball, other than the rules. Once you get beyond the rules, I know almost nothing about strategy, strengths and weaknesses of players, starting pitching rotations, etc.
For example, I am completely unqualified to comment on whether it was the right move to try to steal third with one out last night, in Tech’s 3-2 win over FSU.
In the bottom of the third, Tech’s Brendon Hayden got a leadoff single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kyle Wernicki. With one out, Hayden was in scoring position, against FSU’s Luke Weaver, a dominant pitcher who was in the early stages of a great performance. Hayden tried to steal third, and was thrown out for the second out of the inning … and Alex Perez doubled right after that.
I don’t know if it’s smart to try to steal third in that situation, stupid, standard strategy, or a gamble. But I do know that as the innings dragged on and neither team scored, that lost run loomed large.
Through seven and a half innings last night, this game was scoreless, and neither team was even threatening to plate a run. At one point, Tech’s Brad Markey and FSU’s Weaver had 16 strikeouts between the two of them, and just one walk. Base runners were scarce.
I know that a great pitchers’ duel, like the one we witnessed last night, should not be called “boring”. That’s a no-no. It’s not “exciting” from the standpoint that there isn’t much action on the bases, but it’s exciting from the standpoint that when one team finally does break through, it will be huge.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Hokies broke through. Finally. Weaver had been dominant as advertised, but Hokies’ leadoff hitter Tyler Horan singled up the third base line on a ball that was really just a poorly-hit dribbler. (These things often start with a whimper, not a bang.)
On the next pitch, Mark Zagunis crushed a triple that scored Horan. 1-0, Hokies.
On the next pitch, Andrew Rash skied a pop fly to short center that Zagunis tagged up and scored on. 2-0, Hokies.
The Hokies had gotten one decent hit off Weaver, but had milked it for two runs, and just like that, Weaver, who had been hurling 93 and 94 mph fastballs all night, was gone.
Like I said, I don’t know baseball … but I know that’s baseball. Things can change rapidly.
VT had a great chance to extend the lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth, but FSU quarterback (that’s not a typo) Jameis Winston threw Tech’s Sean Keselica out at the plate to end the inning.
Then, wouldn’t you know it, FSU scored two in the top of the ninth to tie it at 2-2. The inning was a near-disaster, as FSU had the potential winning run at first with just one out, and on second with two outs, but the Hokies got out of it.
Still, it was tied, and that missed opportunity in the third inning and the throwout at home plate in the eighth inning were agonizing to think about.
Mark Zagunis erased all that, however, with a towering home run over Durham Park’s “blue monster”, their big Fenway Park-like wall of a different color. You don’t have to know baseball to know that a walkoff home is as exciting as hell. What a fantastic payoff for those who had sat there through a pitching duel and a couple agonizing back-and-forth innings.
FSU coach Mike Martin and Tech coach Pete Hughes both called it a great baseball game, and it was. The result for Florida State was more dramatic; with two losses, they’re out of it, and they won’t be playing for the ACC Championship. For the Hokies, there’s more work to be done. They still have to beat Georgia Tech today to advance to the ACC Championship Game on Sunday.
Pete Hughes’ strategy of starting Brad Markey against Florida State and pushing Devin Burke out to today against Georgia Tech now looks very smart, and if Burke beats GT, it will look brilliant. Still, you can make all the right moves, and ultimately, it’s up to the players to come through. Markey came through.
Growing up in Charlottesville, I remember Virginia’s 1976 run to the ACC men’s basketball championship. It was a seven-team league back then, and Virginia was the #6 seed in the tournament. In three improbable days, they beat the #3 (NC State), #2 (Maryland) and #1 (UNC) seeds to win the title.
This reminds me of that long-ago tournament. The Hokies are the #6 seed, and so far, they have beaten the #3 and #2 seeds. If VT can get past #7 GT, the Hokies might face #1 seed UNC Sunday for the title, just like Virginia did 37 years ago.
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate that this is a nice run so far, and something great might be in the works. The Hokies play Georgia Tech today at 3:00, on Comcast SportsNet and various other channels. Check your local listings.