Gil LeBreton

TCU’s Luken Baker’s at-bats becoming must-see TV

Luken Baker of TCU rounds the bases after belting a three-run home run in the ninth inning that sent the Horned Frogs to a 5-3 victory over Texas Tech.
Luken Baker of TCU rounds the bases after belting a three-run home run in the ninth inning that sent the Horned Frogs to a 5-3 victory over Texas Tech. AP

Relief pitcher Brian Trieglaff, you could tell, was trying not to sound like the guy on TV, the one in overalls with a few missing teeth, who claims to have just spotted a UFO.

“All we hear,” Trieglaff said, “is the ball hitting the barrel.

“It sounds like a bomb going off.”

Boom!, like a bomb, indeed went TCU freshman Luken Baker’s bat Sunday afternoon.

Boom! went his three-run, ninth-inning homer.

Boom! went Texas Tech’s brief one-run lead.

Like a missile chasing a rainbow, Baker’s high fly ball flirted with the left-field foul pole before landing a half-dozen rows above the Tech bullpen.

Boom! went Baker’s 10th homer of the season.

Boom! went the TCU Horned Frogs into the College World Series winners bracket for the third year in a row.

TCU’s come-from-behind 5-3 victory over the Red Raiders moves the Frogs into a second-round winners bracket showdown with Coastal Carolina.

Coach Jim Schlossnagle said he would go with “probably Brian Howard” as his Tuesday night starter.

“Howard has been pitching really well, and he will be fully rested,” Schlossnagle explained.

All eyes from now on, though, the coach knows, are going to be on Baker, blonde and giantly, the team’s resident Viking.

A week ago in College Station, Texas A&M coach Rob Childress praised the TCU freshman for having “an amazingly advanced approach at the plate.”

Baker’s homer helped the Frogs beat the Aggies in Game 1 of the Super Regional.

“He raises your blood pressure every time he goes to bat,” Childress said.

Against the Red Raiders on Sunday, Baker saved his heroics for the top of the ninth. Tech had taken a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, before Baker came up with two runners aboard.

“They’d been working me away, mixing fastballs, for the majority of the game,” Baker explained. “When they brought [Robert] Dugger in, he has a good fastball, and it’s got good run-in. I figured he missed a few times outside, so maybe he’d come inside.”

Instead of rolling over his hands on the inside pitch and possibly hitting into a rally-killing double play, Baker muscled the two-seam fastball high and into the first few rows above the visitors bullpen.

“Really, when you’ve got to make a pitch, you’ve got to get in on him,” Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “If there’s a fine line there, it’s that a guy that strong has that kind of bat speed. He’s just a polished hitter.”

Like all the TCU hitters, Baker had also done his homework. The Frogs are one of four colleges who use the BATS! Video scouting system employed by 29 of the 30 MLB teams.

As Schlossnagle explained, “I can go back to the hotel and in a couple of hours watch today’s game in 24 minutes.

“I can say, ‘Let’s see all of [Tech starter Steven] Gingery’s fastballs, his breaking balls, his throws to first base. Other schools can do that. They just can’t do it as fast.

“It’s incredible. Our university’s commitment is enormous. Before games, we use the video to go over the other team’s starters and their key relievers. It’s not like standing in the batters box, but it certainly gives us an advantage.”

Baker, standing several axe handles tall, certainly doesn’t seem to need any edges at the plate, but he’s resourceful nonetheless. Schlossnagle reiterated Sunday his amazement at how disciplined a young hitter Baker is.

Even when given a dose of breaking balls low and away, Schlossnagle said, “Luken took his walks. He uses the whole field to hit, and he won’t turn on the ball like we’ve seen in the past.

“His maturity as a hitter has just grown throughout the course of the year.”

Like his teammate Trieglaff said, when Luken Baker hits a baseball, it sounds like a bomb going off. Trieglaff isn’t exaggerating by much.

The freshman’s at-bats are already being labeled as must-see TV at this College World Series.


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