Down 1-0 against Vanderbilt at the College World Series, TCU had a tiny ray of hope at the bottom of the eighth inning. His name was Evan Williams.
There was a lot of tension when he stepped onto the field. First came the two strikeouts: Jeremy Fagnan first, then my boy Connor Wanhanen (which is thoroughly unacceptable because he is OBI-WAN CONOBI and NOBODY strikes out Obi-Wan Conobi!). Finally, Evan Skoug walked to put a Frog on base. With two outs, it looked like the weight of the world would fall upon the shoulders of...
Ohhhh, Steinhagen—the man with the fewest RBI and ties for having the most strikeouts on the team (the other guy is Skoug, but he drives in enough runs to be forgiven). Steinhagen has a respectable .281 average on the year, but only 25 RBIs—against 50 strike outs. He's walked 18 times, which is the lowest of any regular, and has 10 extra base hits (none of which are home runs). These aren't bad numbers, but not ideal for a corner outfielder (he fields at a .924 clip, which is, you guessed it, the worst on the team). In the postseason, Steiny has slumped mightily, batting .216 in 10 starts (dating back to the opening game of the Big 12 Tournament). He has gone 0 for the day in five of those games, and has had more than one hit only twice, going 2-5 against LSU in the opening game of the CWS and 3-4 in the 13-4 win over Texas A&M in the first game of the Super Regional.
So, instead of throwing Steinhagen to the wolves after his 0-3 start in the game, Jim Schlossnagle decided to do something a little different: throw in Williams, the pinch hitter. And Williams did his duty. He singled to put Skoug on second, giving the Frogs two on base with two outs. While the inning would end with a Derek Odell chopper to the mound, Williams' success in a game where few Frogs had any raised an interesting question among fans watching the game: Should Schloss be using his bench more?
You've got to hand it to a guy like Williams: he's been a decent pinch hitter this postseason. Actually, no, he's more than decent. He's pretty good, efficiently hitting sacrifices to get the men on bases to move around. He also hit a single in the tenth inning during TCU's comeback against NC State, driven home by Elliot Barzilli for the winning run.
Evan Williams's Last Four Games
|NC State (June 1)
||Single, advanced to second on error; run
|Texas A&M (June 7)
||Sacrifice, advanced runners to second and third
|Texas A&M (June 8)
||Sacrifice, advanced runner to second
|Vanderbilt (June 16)
||Single, advanced runner to second|
Speaking of Barzilli, where has Barzilli been since NC State? A week and a half ago, he was a hero. Since that time, he has been glued to the bench, with no opportunities to repeat his magic act. As a utility player, Barzilli has had defensive success at several infield spots, and while he has only hit .250 in 100 at bats on the year, his experience in big games at Georgia Tech (where he played his freshman season) has shown he's not afraid of the moment. Before last night, the Frogs hadn't used a pinch hitter since the epic comeback over the Wolfpack, despite playing in two extra inning affairs in the meantime. Could the Vanderbilt game have ended differently if Williams and Barzilli had more chances to hit, or was Schloss right to "dance with the one(s) who brought him"?
Or, on a more radical note, what if the Frogs started Williams, rather than Steinhagen? Williams has been on a roll lately and his hitting could pay dividends in the five spot, forcing pitchers to put balls in the zone for Wanhanen and Skoug—Skoug was walked on four pitches by Vanderbilt, who had decided not to give him a chance to tie it by throwing anything anywhere near the plate. Now, let's be clear here, no one is hating on Dane or saying he's a terrible player. Steinhagen is a big part of the reason the Frogs are in the position they are in, and has played a role in his team amassing 50 wins on the year. But baseball is (despite some claims to the contrary) a game of momentum and streaks, and Dane is on a cold one at the moment.
Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda. Nothing I say is going to get TCU out of the loser's bracket, but hey, it's worth talking about. I have nothing against Steinhagen, but I think Williams deserves a chance. Just picture it: Obi-Wan Conobi, Skougasaurus and Williams (nickname pending). Is this a far-fetched dream or could it change TCU's College World Series reality?