Monday, June 4, 2012

Pocket Pair

A new segment of daily (hopefully) rants about goings on in the world of sports, movies or anything else I have an opinion on.

Yesterday UNC was eliminated from the NCAA Baseball Regional Tournament.  They were a young team and not expected to do as well as they did.  Led by a pair of Sophomores, pitcher Kent Emanuel and 3rd baseman Colin Moran, the Tar Heels went 42-13 in the regular season.  This was good enough for 2nd place in the very difficult (save for the pesky winning a National Championship thing) ACC.  With only two Seniors and thirteen Freshmen on the roster is appeared that this version of the Diamond Heels was a year away from contending for a spot in the College World Series in Omaha.  This was until a 13 game winning streak where the pitching staff only gave up more than two runs in a game twice to end the season.  Omaha looked more like a certainty rather than a dream going into the post season. 

In the ACC Tournament UNC dispatched of Wake Forest 6-0, but then ran up against the one team that had their number all season, Miami.  After being swept by Miami earlier in the season, it was more of the same in the Tournament as they fell 5-3.  Because of silly tie breakers other results meant that UNC couldn't play in the Championship game even after shutting out rival N.C. two nights later.  The strange part of the Tournament was that UNC, the #2 seed in it and top seed on their half of the bracket had to be the road team for two of the three games they played.  They worked hard for 55 games to earn a higher seed only for it to be thrown away because each team is guaranteed a home game.  That's a load of crap.  Baseball is set up to reward the home team with the final chance to score for a reason.  As the better team, UNC earned the right to be the home team.  It may not have made a difference in the loss to Miami, but in game strategy is completely different when you are home than when you are the visitor.

Even with falling short in the ACC Tournament UNC was rated the #6 overall seed in the 64 team NCAA Tournament that would deliver eight participants to the College World Series.  UNC got to host a 4 team regional with the winner of that regional facing another winning team and if UNC had won their regional they would of hosted that best of 3 series.  Again they had earned all of this with a very stellar regular season against some of the stiffest competition in all of the land.  Of the 16 hosts in the regional round, 5 of them came from the ACC.  In the first game the Tar Heels got past a pesky Cornell team 7-4.  They were rightfully the home team.  The next game is the most important of the bracket.  The winner gets to advance to the Championship Game of the bracket where they only have to win one more game to advance.  The loser falls the the bad side of the bracket and would have to win 3 consecutive games including two over the team that just beat them to advance.  With such importance UNC should have naturally been given home field advantage.  Nope.  Sorry.  Let's flip a frickin' coin to determine this.  Are you kidding me?  A coin?  Yes the Heels will have the fans, the familiarity, but I'd trade all of that for last at bats.  As you probably guessed, UNC lost the coin flip and were forced to the status of visitor on their home field in the most important game of the season to date.  If it's a close game the home team can play to keep it tied rather than be forced to try for a big inning. 

This is just what happened between UNC and second round opponent St. Johns.  The Red Storm scored first and Tar Heels answered right back to even it at 1.  St. Johns responded with a run and that lead held for three innings until UNC scored twice to take the lead back.  UNC added a run in the 9th and held a two advantage.  They turned to 1st Team All-American close Michael Morin who had tied the UNC season record with 18 saves.  UNC was 36-0 when leading after 8 innings.  The lead off batter for St. Johns doubled and the following man singled putting 2 men on with nobody out.  Morin struck out the third batter, but catcher Danny Bethea connected for a game winning 3 run homer.  UNC just lost in walk off fashion on their home field! 

Just to add salt to the wound, UNC lost the next coin flip and had to be the road team again with their season on the line in the following game against East Carolina.  They won that game and even with being afforded home field advantage in the rematch against St. Johns, they couldn't get a victory to force a winner take all game on Monday.  St. Johns played better, they pitched better, fielded better and hit better.  They deserved to move on, but I would have loved to see UNC get that final at bat on Saturday night, it seems only fair, after all they earned it, didn't they?


As I type, the Amateur Draft for Major League Baseball is going on.  In 2007 the Oakland Athletics drafted pitcher/first baseman Sean Doolittle out of the University of Virginia.  He was a very good pitcher, but he was drafted as a hitter.  He was giving up on pitching.  In his first professional season, Doolittle hit 22 home runs for the Athletics minor league teams.  He then suffered multiple injuries to his wrist and and knees.  Hitting was going to be no longer possible at a major league level.  His career was in jeopardy so he decided to give pitching a shot again.

After missing the entire 2010 season and all but one inning in 2011, Sean Doolittle was going to try and pitch his way to the majors.  He started in A level with a bunch of just out of high school and college kids.  He struck out 21 in just over 10 innings and walked only two.  This had always been his strength.  He had struck out 174 batters to only 37 walks in college.  Quickly he was moved up to AA where the top prospects abide in the minor leagues.  In eleven innings he struck out 19 while walking only 4 batters.  In each of his two stops he only gave up one earned run.  Two runs in 21 innings is good, but considering Doolittle hadn't pitched regularly in 5 years it's mighty impressive.

Just as quick as his move to AA, The Athletics bumped him up to AAA, one step away from fulfilling his lifelong dream of pitching in the majors.  He recorded only 11 outs in AAA, 8 by strikeout while walking a single batter and didn't give up a run.  With an injury relief pitcher Jordan Norberto, the Athletics needed to call up another relief pitcher.  Sean Doolittle got the call he had been waiting 5 years for.  He was headed to Oakland, just not as the hitter he and the Athletics thought he'd be, but as a strikeout specialist.

He's obviously not guaranteed a long stay as Norberto appears that he'll be ready to go when his 15 days of rest is up.  He is also not guaranteed similar success to what he's seen against inferior competition, but today is his day and nobody is taking that away from him.  As a life long baseball player who would do almost anything to throw to just one batter in the majors, I can only imagine how Doolittle must feel right now.  I wish him all the success in the world and hope his stay in Oakland is a long one and an exceptional one.  Never give up on your dream.

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