Mac Engel

TCU needed a special play, not math, to beat A&M

TCU’s Garrett Crain, right, scoring the winning run Monday night as Texas A&M catcher Michael Barash can’t handle the throw, might not have made the wise decision to try to score but he did make something special happen when it was needed.
TCU’s Garrett Crain, right, scoring the winning run Monday night as Texas A&M catcher Michael Barash can’t handle the throw, might not have made the wise decision to try to score but he did make something special happen when it was needed. Star-Telegram

Stop signs are there to be followed, but sometimes rules are made to be completely ignored. Make them catch you.

That’s exactly what TCU’s Garrett Crain did — he forced Texas A&M to catch him, which the Aggies could not. He got away with it, which is sometimes what life is all about.

TCU’s final extra-innings Super Regional victory over Texas A&M on Monday night/Tuesday morning should be packaged and displayed to any kid who thinks baseball is boring — a safe haven for economics majors and fantasy enthusiasts. It’s still a game.

TCU’s most recent NCAA Tournament game was brilliant theater and featured all of the components that make baseball so timeless and captivating.

It helped that Lupton Stadium boasted the best home atmosphere in TCU baseball history and a trip to baseball’s equivalent of the Final Four was on the line.

“That is the best college baseball game I’ve ever been a part of,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Not just in terms of the size of the crowd, but the energy of the crowd. It was more than anything I could have dreamed of when I came to TCU.”

Crain’s decision to ignore the stop sign at third base in the bottom of the 16th inning and go for the winning run was not the wise decision, but sometimes you just have to go and see what happens.

Sometimes the only way you’re ever going to know is if you ignore the stop sign and see if you are the lucky one. In this case, A&M’s third baseman made a poor throw to home, and Crain scored the winning run to send TCU back to the College World Series in Omaha.

It was a special decision on a special night, and by the 16th inning, it was apparent that something bold was required to break a tie that had no end in sight.

“This is not my idea of fun,” Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said in the press box when the clock approached 11:30 p.m.

Indeed, the tension for guys like Hyman and so many others in these situations is often not fun. No one watching had any idea the game had another 90 minutes before it would not end well for the Aggies.

After A&M rallied for three runs in the eighth and ninth innings to tie the score at 4, it was apparent to the more than 7,000 in attendance that this was going to be a game that no one will forget. It would have been better had the game ended on a clean play, but not everything can be nice and tidy or, more specifically, follow the rules.

Baseball has become the overthinking man’s game. It worships math’s rules and ignores the other percentile that says it might just happen. Before baseball’s slow transition to spreadsheets, it was a sport about playing. It was a sport about playing a game rather than thinking it to death.

Watching TCU’s baseball team is a throwback to the time when baseball was played rather than scrutinized, pontificated and thought out to the point where it no longer feels like a game but a science project.

Baseball is a game that is meant to be played, and sometimes that means going when the book and the math tell you to stop at third base. Baseball is about forcing the other guy to make a decision and proving the other team can make both the routine and difficult play.

That is the way baseball should be played — by feel, aggressiveness and the willingness to be thrown out at home.

During the game, a buddy who knows his college baseball sent me a message that A&M coach Rob Childress was “coaching circles” around Schlossnagle. Son, please don’t sell stupid here — I’m stocked up for a zombie attack.

Both men were in extra innings of a regional final, and by that point, the difference between winning and losing was simply a bounce or luck. A&M didn’t lose; it just got beat. There is a substantial difference.

The only way Crain’s decision to ignore the stop sign was going to be the right decision was if a mistake was made. He should have been thrown out at home by 5 to 7 feet. Even an average throw nails him.

“I told them [that game] is a ‘very small sliver of your life, and your baseball career. Go get what you want,’” Schlossnagle said. “I told the team before the game to go get it, go earn it.”

Sometimes the cop at the stop sign doesn’t see you rolling through the intersection. Sometimes you land the interview by accident, but still get the job. Sometimes life works out when it says, ‘If you make these decisions, there will be disappointment.’ Sometimes you get a trip to Omaha when you maybe should be stuck at home.

The only way to know is if you go.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof and The Big Mac Blog

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