Well so much for all those warm and fuzzy feelings from starting the season 3-1 and beating our cross-town rival UW. Sacramento was not kind to us. We packed up and headed south looking for warm sun and wins. We got only the first of our wish list. The sun was a welcome respite but sadly our play did not rise with the temperatures. We lost 9-6, 6-5, and 8-7, with the last coming on a 3-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th on getaway day. Brutal.
What is truly frustrating about the sweep in Sacramento is not that we dropped three winnable games, but the fashion in which we accomplished this ignominious feat. We had 11 more baserunners over the course of the weekend than the Hornets, virtually the same number of hits, and saw an average of 167 pitches per game, all of which added together should equal some wins for crying out loud! That’s almost 19 pitches per inning! Obviously I am screaming from the hitting coach chair, and lest you think I am a myopic clown, wait till you hear the real kicker, which comes from the pitching and defense paradigm. We WON the Freebie War 16-6! Before I expect you all to fall out of your seats with shock and amazement, I guess I should back up and explain just exactly what the Freebie War is.
The Freebie War is one of the ultimate standards in our program here at SeattleU. Donny Harrel, our head coach, preaches this tenet to our kids over and over as a key to wining ballgames consistently. The old adage is that pitching and defense win games, and the two working in unison to minimize opportunities and damage from the opponents’ offense. The Freebie Warn for us is the ultimate symbol of that battle. The formula breaks down this way:
Take Walks, Hit by Pitch, Wild Pitches, Pass Balls, Stolen Bases, Errors, and Balks, then subtract Double Plays turned and Runners Caught Stealing – do this both offensively and defensively. The team with the higher offensive number usually wins. In essence, if you limit the number of “free” bases the other team gets and maximize the number you get, you’re going to win far more often than you lose. Yes, I know it’s not rocket science to put these two ideas together, but it IS a handy metric to evaluate your performance on any given night, beyond just the final score. Control the controllables is something many coaches preach and we believe the Freebie War is a great way to focus on these aspects of the game of baseball.
So now back to the shock and awe of our series at Sacramento State. We actually won the Freebie War in all three games, 6-2, 7-5, and 16-6. How does that happen and you lose all three games? Big plays is the answer. We missed on opportunities to make big plays and didn’t, and the Hornets pounced on them. Two days in a row, we allowed five runs AFTER a missed routine fly ball and an un-turned routine double play. Day three brought the biggest big play of all – a walk-off 3-run home run. Lesson is that you can do so many things right in a game, but if you do not make big plays, or even routine plays in big situations, then you will never reach your potential, either as a player or as a team. We got that revelation pounded into us down in California this past weekend for sure. Where we go from here is what will define us.