OMAHA, Neb. -- It’s no secret that seeing a home run at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha is a rare sight, especially in 2014.
Through eight games, not one player was able to hit one out. Wednesday night saw two teams not known for their power with Texas and UC Irvine matching up for the second time in the College World Series. Naturally, it was Texas’ C.J Hinojosa’s home run in the seventh inning, the first in 115 innings of play at the CWS, which gave the Longhorns a 1-0 win against the Anteaters to stay alive.
Hinojosa wouldn’t be the first player you picked on any of the eight teams that were in Omaha to hit a home run. His shot, which hit the back wall in the leftfield bullpen, was only his second of the season with his only other coming April 11 at Oklahoma. It was only his 14th extra-base hit of the season. But that’s baseball.“I didn’t think it was very good odds,” Hinojosa said about being the first player to hit a home run this year. “But there are times when a nine-hole hitter does it, and you never think that he would. Baseball is a game that you don't know what exactly is going to happen and you can't predict anything. Same thing could happen any given day at any given time.”
It came on a 2-0 pitch from UC Irvine starter Evan Manarino. Hinojosa turned on it and even with the wind still howling in from the south at 25 miles per hour, it got out. For Manarino, it was only the second home run he allowed in 64.0 innings.
“It's a hard place to hit a ball out,” Manarino said. “I didn't think it was a very good pitch. I left it over the plate, and he’s a good hitter. He took advantage of it and drove it to leftfield, and that was it.”
The numbers in between the last time there was a home run in the College World Series are enormous. Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfroe held that distinction with a three-run blast against Oregon State on June 21, 2013 in the bottom of the fifth inning. In between home runs at the CWS, there were 923 batters, 3,436 pitches and 620 outs at the CWS.
It came on the 2,540th pitch in Game 9 of the 2014 College World Series.
“I was just trying to see a good pitch,” Hinojosa said. “I was battling all night. I've seen it good, and I tried to put a good swing on it and it flew out.”
Texas as a team had just 21 home runs entering Wednesday, tied for 124th in the nation, and only two in eight NCAA tournament games entering play. Hinojosa was able to smash the 67th home run in the 166th game played at the stadium.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Longhorns.
The inning before, Texas’ Ben Johnson hit what appeared to be a double into the leftfield corner. A bobble by Adam Alcantara allowed Johnson to reach third. Except UC Irvine noticed something -- Johnson stumbled around first base and missed the bag. UC Irvine appealed. Johnson was out at first.
“[Thursday] we're doing base running,” Texas head coach Augie Garrido said about his practice plans. “How to touch the bases. Get back to some of the simple fundamentals.”
In a College World Series that has sparked debate after debate about the game of college baseball and the lack of offense, it was refreshing -- as much as it was surprising -- to see Hinojosa hit one out. Surprising only because the six teams remaining in Omaha as of Wednesday arrived in Omaha with just 142 home runs in 381 games (0.37 per game) and allowed only 91 (0.24 per game).
Hinojosa is the Longhorns’ leading hitter at .394 in the postseason, though, and his long ball extended his hitting streak to seven games. But a home run? Even his dugout was stunned.
“Four players fainted,” Garrido joked about his players’ reaction. “I had a mild heart attack. I put a long distance call in to get Cinco de Mayo recognized as a national day in honor of him.”
One of those Texas players most thankful was starting pitcher Chad Hollingsworth. In just his second start of the season, he went 8.1 shutout innings while allowing just four hits and striking out five. The blast got him his fourth win of the season in just the second 1-0 CWS game since 1985.
“[Hinojosa] came up and kind of took it into his own hands,” Hollingsworth said. “C.J plays big in big games and it's nothing different this game.”
Thanks to the blast, Hinojosa kept Texas alive to play Friday against Vanderbilt. And he’ll have a chance to become the third player to hit multiple home runs at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in a College World Series. Hey, why not?