Saturday, June 5, 2010

Unfortunately, There is No "I" in Team

You knew that at some point this weekend, you’d hear from me about the College Softball World Series tournament. As usual for this time of year, I have no idea what’s happening in the world of baseball with the exception of what the ESPN ticker tells me. I see that the Yankees have lost to the Blue Jays in extra innings and that Andy Pettitte earned a no decision in the game.

Now I see that the Twins are facing the Athletics at 9:05 ET.

I am currently sitting Indian-style in my bed with my laptop in front of me, watching the Florida Gators play their second game of the day against the Georgia Bulldogs. Despite it being an exciting game thus far, that’s not what’s blowing me away at this time. What has boggled my mind today is the fact that at the hands of these very same Bulldogs, the defending champion Washington Huskies had dropped into the loser’s bracket earlier this week and are now heading home having lost two straight games this weekend.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the College World Series, it’s a double-elimination tournament. This means that in order to be eliminated from contention, you have to be beaten twice. By the time you reach the best-of-three championship series, oftentimes one team has traveled through the tournament in the winner’s bracket and will have had the advantage of not needing to play as many games as the other. Therefore, it’s in the best interest of the team and your pitcher (as many teams ride one “ace” during the entire season/tournament) to win every single time you step onto the field. In 2007, the Arizona Wildcats accomplished the rare feat of winning the Championship behind Taryne Mowatt having reached the championship series through the loser’s bracket. To put things into perspective, Arizona had to play 6 games (all pitched by Mowatt) in order to reach the championship series whereas their opponent, Tennessee (and their pitcher, Monica Abbott) only needed to play in 3.

Before sitting down to write this, I watched the Wildcats eliminate the Huskies from the tournament and effectively end Danielle Lawrie’s collegiate career. It was a tough game for me to watch. I’ve always been a huge fan of Mike Candrea, coach of the Wildcats and Team USA, but I respect Danielle Lawrie a lot as an athlete. She’s truly the whole package, being a phenomenal pitcher as well as batting in the clean-up spot for her team. Heading into the tournament, Lawrie led the team with 14 home runs and 55 RBI’s on the season.

Unlike most softball pitchers who operate between 2 pitch speeds, Lawrie’s actually utilizes 3. A fast ball (that I’ve seen thrown as hard as 68 mph, which is equivalent to a baseball pitch thrown in the mid-90’s), a change, and an off speed pitch that falls somewhere between her fast and change. She also boasts a rise, curve, and screw ball that she can throw effectively. Key word: effectively. How many MLB pitchers do we see today who claim to have 4 pitches at their disposal, but can only throw 2 or 3 really well? In 2008, she played for Team Canada in the Beijing Olympics, appearing in 12 innings and striking out 13 batters. The Olympics bring the best athletes from all over the world to the table. Striking out 13 in 12 innings is impressive on any stage, let alone the Olympics.

With Lawrie in the circle, this tournament should’ve been cake. Forget about today’s loss. They never should’ve been in the loser’s bracket to begin with. On Thursday, leading 3-0 late in the game, suddenly Lawrie’s curve ball just didn’t have the same bite that it had earlier when she dominated Georgia’s hitters. Jessica Mendoza and Beth Mowins, the game’s commentators, felt that the humidity and heat, something that Lawrie had been unfamiliar with having played most of the regular season in the cooler Seattle weather, contributed to the fatigue that Lawrie displayed. Whatever the reason was for Lawrie’s un-Lawrie like pitching, the Bulldogs took advantage of it, scoring 6 runs off of her and relegating the Huskies to the loser’s bracket…

…which brings us to this afternoon. Lawrie struck out 7 of the first 8 hitters that she faced, but in the 3rd, she ran into a little trouble. The Wildcats managed to string together 2 infield hits and a bloop single to right field to manufacture their first run. Their second run of the inning came on an error to second baseman (woman?), Amanda Fleischman, rare for a team who is ranked 7th in the nation for its defense. Errors, both mental and physical, are what would lead to the Huskies’ downfall.

In the bottom of the 3rd, the Huskies appeared to be rallying, only to have Fleischman thrown out at home trying to score from second on a shallow single by Kimi Pohlman to left field. Washington’s coaches complained about catcher Stacie Chambers blocking the plate, but in reality, Fleischman never should’ve attempted to score on such a shallow hit, especially with Lawrie standing in the on deck circle. In the bottom of the 4th, Lawrie led off with a single to right field. Granted, we can never assume that Lawrie would’ve hit that single in the bottom of the 3rd with Fleischman on third, but it still gives you food for thought. Fleischman’s error in judgment of the situation (or Coach Tarr’s mistake in making the call to send her) may have cost the Huskies a run (vital in a game that was decided by only 1 run).

The Huskies would nevertheless scratch a run across in the 4th on a single by Niki Williams, but handed it right back to Arizona with yet another error committed by Fleischman. An error on the usually flawless third baseman Morgan Stuart in the 7th would give the Wildcats their 4th run.

My heart breaks for Lawrie, not because she lost, but because the loss was not her fault. She did everything she promised she would do for the Huskies, striking out 12 and even scoring a run. Her defense and offense simply failed her. Freshman pitcher, Kenzie Fowler was called for 7 illegal pitches today. 7!! For every illegal pitch, the penalty issued is the one that best favors the offense. If there are no runners on base, the batter earns a ball. If there is a runner on board, she advances to the next base. Guess how many times Washington’s offense capitalized on these mistakes? Once. That’s insane.

Lawrie threw a total of 148 pitches today. While I do understand that the softball pitching rotation is easier on the shoulder than the baseball rotation, you’d never hear of something like this in the MLB. Washington also primarily rode Lawrie’s arm to get to this point in the season. I don’t care about which pitching rotation is easier on the arm. The fact remains is that this woman took the field every day for her team and performed to everyone’s expectations almost every single time. That effort still takes a toll on you physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’d like to see the Josh Beckett’s, CC Sabathia’s, Johan Santana’s, Tim Lincecum’s, and Chris Carpenter’s accomplish that. Oh, yeah…and not get paid for it.


BallHype: hype it up!

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