Still in his uniform, still wearing the dirt, Garrett Crain flashed back to the moment he decided to go for home plate.
“I saw him bobble it, and I saw it go to the ground,” the TCU second baseman said. “I knew we had to score somehow. So I just kept going.”
Crain’s decision — which he wouldn’t have made in any other game — meant the winning run in the Horned Frogs’ 5-4 victory in 16 innings against Texas A&M just after 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, six hours after the first pitch of the deciding Game 3 of the Super Regional at Lupton Stadium.
A hard ground ball off the bat of Evan Skoug got away from third baseman Ronnie Gideon behind the bag, Crain made a tight turn and, head down, sped for home past the stop sign of third base caoch Bill Mosiello.
“I didn’t really see Coach Mo’s stop sign,” Crain said. “I didn’t see Coach Mo at all.”
He smiled and paused for a moment.
“Now that I think about it, I can see him.”
The throw from Gideon was in plenty of time. But it skipped away from catcher Michael Barash, and Crain slid in right foot first, arms extended, an unlikely sudden ending to a game that looked like it might go on and on in the hands of TCU reliever Mitchell Traver and A&M reliever Ryan Hendrix.
“I did whatever I could to get the ball,” Barash said. “I knew that was the winning run. It was a tough play on Ronnie, and I’ll take full responsibility for that. I should have had that ball. I should have made the play for our guys.”
Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said the play was hard to watch.
“Just kind of slow motion – we don’t field it cleanly at third, then we’ve got to make a rushed throw,” he said. “It was a tough throw and a tough chance to pick and try to apply a tag. So it was hard to swallow.”
But from a coaching perspective, he saw the value of Crain’s decision.
“Congratulations to TCU,” Childress said. “They put the pressure on and put a ball in play, and they’re going to Omaha.”
If it was any other game at any other time for any other stakes, Crain would have held up at the bag.
“Yeah, 16th inning, have to try and force something,” he said. “If that’s the seventh or eighth inning and that’s the game-tying or winning run, maybe we can’t do that. Being what it was, we had to score a run. And luckily we did.”
The win sent TCU (49-13) to the College World Series for a second consecutive appearance and third in school history. The Frogs will open at 2 p.m. Sunday against LSU at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Crain’s bold move did not surprise TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle.
“He’s aggressive. That’s our mentality,” he said. “That’s the kind of baseball this team plays, and sometimes it looks ugly, and I hear the groans in the stands – I get it. But that’s how we have to score, and the more pressure you can put on people, then maybe sometimes you get some mistakes along the way.
“That’s not a throw you ever practice, so Garrett did a good job of forcing the issue.”
Shortstop Keaton Jones said he saw the stop sign go up.
“But I don’t think he saw that, honestly.”
Then he smiled and said he was glad his senior teammate made something happen.
“It was an aggressive play. He was trying to score,” Jones said. “It worked out in our favor.”
Then Jones laughed.
“I’m kind of glad he did it.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407