Gil LeBreton

Omaha, Omaha: Thoughts from a breezy, 137-pitch night

Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore speaks at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., site of the NCAA men's baseball College World Series. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore speaks at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., site of the NCAA men's baseball College World Series. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) AP

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, Shakespeare tells us.

Shakespeare, I suppose, must have been another of those pitch-to-contact kinda guys.

Five years after it opened, TD Ameritrade Park continues to provoke tsk-tsks from fans who like to enjoy an occasional run with their college baseball.

It’s a sore subject with local media and folks, who say complaining about the new park’s northwest-to-southeast orientation has become trite. The city of Omaha has a 25-year contract with the NCAA to host the College World Series, so enjoy the breezes, meathead.

Thus, with 19 mph zephyrs at his back, Coastal Carolina’s Andrew Beckwith pitched with impunity Friday night. He "pitched to contact," the modern euphemism for "just let ‘em hit it."

A few other thoughts from TCU’s first defeat at this College World Series:

1, A frustrated TCU lineup, which came in expecting a rooster fight with the Chanticleers, instead got sprayed by the proverbial flower that squirted water on their noses.

In the postgame interview room, after losing 4-1 to the pride of the Big South Conference, Horned Frogs Evan Skoug and Dane Steinhagen seemed more miffed at the turn of events than introspective.

"We’re really not too fazed," said catcher Skoug. "We’re going to come out here tomorrow, a new day, and we’re going to keep winning pitches and keep putting good swings on baseballs."

Added centerfielder Steinhagen: "We’re going to come out gunning for them."

For the first time in this World Series, the Frogs played spotty baseball. But it was Beckwith’s carnival assortment – sidearm, submarine, over-the-top, never reaching 90 miles an hour – that seemed to stick in their craw.

Beckwith went the full distance, throwing 137 pitches. (More on that later in this thoughtful analysis). More amazingly, 101 of the 137 pitches were strikes.

And even more amazingly than that, the Frogs swung and missed only four times.

Some days, like Shakespeare said, you just let them hit it – and it works.

2, As TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said after the game, it just wasn’t a good night to be hitting the ball in the air.

With the incoming wind and Beckwith’s funky style, it was like playing a team that had four outfielders.

But Schlossnagle was quick to give Coastal Carolina and Beckwith credit – sort of.

"Certainly Beckwith was the story of the game, with his competitiveness and his ability just to manage the baseball," Schlossnagle said, choosing his words deftly.

Competitiveness is one thing, however. What Beckwith and coach Gary Gilmore did, however, will stir an ancient debate – the issue of callous disregard for pitch counts in college baseball.

Gilmore’s defense of letting his guy throw 137 pitches was a weak one.

"I’m going,’Are you okay?Are you okay? How do you feel?’" Gilmore said he asked Beckwith.

"He just kept telling me, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine.’

"I mean, that’s just who that kid is. He’s such a competitor."

And that’s an age-old cop-out. He’s the head coach. He shouldn’t be asking his pitcher if he wants to come out of the game. It’s his decision, not the player’s.

Back in Texas, people remember the story of Austin Wood, who was left to pitch in a tied game at a 2009 NCAA regional for 13 innings and 169 pitches.

When asked later is he had any regrets about the lingering effects to Wood’s pitching arm, Longhorns coach Augie Garrido said, "None. He was in the moment."

Wood had shoulder surgery in 2010 and his professional career ended at age 25. He has said repeatedly in interviews that he has "no regrets" about throwing 169 pitches that night.

For the record, the most pitches thrown in a major league game this season is 123 by Jeff Samardzija.

Since Beckwith frequently dips below the waistline in his delivery, he contended after the game that his arm doesn’t get the abuse that a normal 137-pitch pitcher’s arm would.

Maybe. Or maybe it was his head coach who just got too "in the moment."

3, Both coaches were somewhat evasive when asked who Saturday night’s starting pitchers would be.

Gilmore said he wasn’t inclined to use his All-America reliever, Mike Morrison, after making two appearances and throwing 113 pitches over the past four days.

"But he’ll have two or three bricks to throw at me," Gilmore said.

Senior right-hander Tyler Poole started 10 games for the Chanticleers this season and he could get the nod.

Schlossnagle, meanwhile, likely will go with his planned, next-day starter, freshman Jared Janczak.

The season rides on Saturday night’s game, but Schlossnagle hasn’t made a single decision out of panic all season and he won’t do it now.

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