This is the College World Series. Or as it may soon be known, the 2017 Home Run Derby. OK, maybe not quite that level, but by TD Ameritrade Park standards, the balls are flying out of here as if the hitters are using T-shirt launchers.
Four more Wednesday night in LSU’s 7-4 win over Florida State. That makes 14 in nine games. Move over, Houston Astros. There were 10 in the entire CWS last June. In 2013-14 combined, there were six – or one more than Florida State just hit in three games. It was as If the fences had been moved back to Iowa.
Flat-seamed baseballs were introduced in 2015 and that helped the offense. Still, this outfield has been where fly balls go to die. But not this June.Juiced balls? Loaded bats? Lousy pitchers? Wait a second. Total scoring is only up marginally from two years ago, and strikeouts are way up. This CWS has witnessed a number of stirring pitching performances. There’s the irony of it.
LSU senior Jared Poche’ kept his career and his team alive Wednesday night with eight strong innings, while becoming the school’s all-time leading winner. “He showed up,” teammate Cole Freeman said, “and that’s what he’s done his whole career.”
Florida’s starters have put on a clinic, allowing one run in two games. “The last two nights,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of Alex Faedo and Brady Singer, “you saw two big leaguers.”
So lot of pitches are being thrown past the hitters. But the thing is, many of the ones not thrown past them end up getting caught by customers in the outfield general admission seats.
Let’s watch the fireworks show.
The fourth batter of the CWS, Cal State Fullerton’s Timmy Richards, sent one into the bleachers in left-center. It took until the fifth inning of game 3 last year to see a home run.
That same night, Florida State’s Dylan Busby homered on the second at-bat of the game. Coming into this June, there had been only five top-of-the-first inning home runs in 92 CWS games. And now there had been two within six hours.
Ooooh . . .
In game 5, both Florida State’s Drew Mendoza and Cal State Fullerton’s Richards (again) homered in the sixth inning. It was the first time since the CWS moved to TD Ameritrade in 2011 that two teams went deep in the same inning. Richards had four home runs all season before Omaha. He had two here in three days.
Ahhhhh . . .
When Oregon State’s KJ Harrison went to the plate in the sixth inning of game 6, there had been 196 CWS at-bats with the bases loaded since the last grand slam, in 2010. But not anymore. “This is the kind of stuff you dream of, growing up as a little kid,” Harrison said afterward. LSU’s Zach Watson homered, too. There had been only seven CWS games in the six previous years of TD Ameritrade with at least two home runs. But it happened twice on Monday.
In game 7, TCU’s Ryan Merrill, an Omaha kid back home as a Horned Frog, homered and nearly swooned from the excitement. “I don’t hit many home runs so I was sprinting,” he said. “As soon as I saw it leave, that’s when it hit me just how cool that experience is.”
In game 8, Florida’s Deacon Liput and Austin Langworthy both homered. Together, they had five all season.
In game 9 Wednesday, LSU’s Jake Slaughter, batting ninth and without a homer since March 15, drilled a 3-run shot in the second inning. Florida State never recovered, even though the Seminoles hit three themselves, including two on consecutive pitches in the ninth inning. The CWS hadn’t seen that in 11 years.
Yep, 14. With that old cliché, a lot of baseball left to play. The CWS high in the first six TD Ameritrade years is 15, from 2015. That mark seems in the bag.
So what’s going on? Let’s ask a hitting coach.
“I don’t know if it’s the ball. Who knows what it is?” LSU’s Micah Gibbs said. “When we got here, I noticed the wind’s been blowing out a little bit. I’m not sure there’s anything. Maybe it’s just one of those outlier type years.
“I know if you go on Twitter or sites about major league baseball right now, everything’s all about elevating the baseball and trying to hit home runs. You see it in the big leagues, too. There’s a huge spike in home runs but there’s also a huge spike in strikeouts. I know we’ve stuck with the same approach we’ve had for years. It’s not something we necessarily teach but I know there’s a lot of places out there that have started talking about getting the ball into the air a little bit more.”
Whatever the reason, there are more souvenirs, more noise, and more group hugs at home plate. Nobody’s complaining, except maybe the pitchers. But some of them are having a pretty good College World Series, too.