West Virginia came in tonight ready to play. The Mountaineer's starting pitcher, Chad Donato, dazzled through the opening four innings with eight strikeouts, while giving up only two hits. On the other side, TCU's Luken Baker struggled a bit himself early in the game, walking several Mountaineers and having to work out of trouble on multiple occasions. WVU struck first with the help of a first inning error by Merrill, taking a 2-0 lead while the TCU bats remained quiet. He also gave up a solo home run in the third, his only earned run of the night, but was in and out of hot water throughout. He looked like he was in trouble in the top of the fifth, but he and Skoug combined for a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play to end that inning and gave TCU some momentum heading to the bottom of the frame.
In the bottom of the fifth, TCU finally got to Donato. Steinhagen reached on an error with one out and Michael Landestoy singled to put two runners on, before Austen Wade doubled to drive in Steinhagen for TCU's first run of the game. Warner doubled in the next at bat to drive in two more runs and knot the score at 3-3. Luken Baker grounded to third on the next play and the first baseman had to come off the bag to try to tag him. He missed the tag, but then was still able to throw to home to get Warner out as he tried to make it from second. To pause for a second, Landestoy now has a batting average of .421 in 19 at-bats this season. Most of his playing time has come since Wanhanen got hurt last Friday against USC, but kudos to Michael for seizing this opportunity and really making the most of it.
Jared Janczak, who has been great this season and has the most innings pitched out of TCU's bullpen, had a rough time relieving Baker in the sixth. To be fair to him, I think he struck out the first batter he faced with a fastball low on a full count, but the umpire called it a ball and that walk started a long inning, in which Janczak threw 31 pitches. After the walk, he tried to pick off the runner at first, but threw it past Landestoy to allow the runner to advance to second. West Virginia followed that up with three singles around a double and just like that they had regained their three-run lead with a score of 6-3.
People say that TCU football mirrors the success or failure of TCU baseball, but tonight it was kind of the other way around. It was starting to look like maybe our pitching really wasn't as good as we thought, and maybe this team would have to routinely outscore people to win games. I'm not saying I think that's true, it's just an observation. Our pitching staff is surely more mortal than last year, but led the nation in ERA and WHIP just a week ago. It's not time to overreact just yet. Either way, we did outscore them and win the game this time.
The freshman Sean Wymer came into the game to start the seventh and threw two shutout innings, allowing just one hit and two walks while also striking out two. He earned the win tonight and he gave TCU exactly what they needed; someone who could come in and find an air of stability on the mound for the Horned Frogs. In return, Wymer got all the run support he could ever ask for.
Baker walked to start the eighth and Josh Watson promptly double off the wall in deep center, scoring Baker all the way from first. With Watson standing on second base, Barzilli took one over the left field wall for a two run bomb. Just like that, the score was tied at 6-6. Things got very dark from there for West Virginia and their bullpen. Two more walks and a single loaded the bases for TCU, and WVU's new pitcher walked in the go-ahead run to make it 7-6. Skoug grounded out to second to make it 8-6 with two outs, before Baker singled to drive in two more runs a batter later. The inning finally ended when Watson struck out swinging - his second plate appearance of the inning as the Frogs batted around.
If you can only retire the opposing hitters in order in one inning, the last inning, when you have the lead, is a good time to do it. That's what Durbin Feltman did when he took the mound to start the ninth in relief of Wymer. Feltman looked a little Riley Ferrell-ish out there as he struck out the first two batters he faced with a 95-96 mph fastball. Don't look now, but this freshman pitching staff is growing up, and the freshman hitters are apparently already grown men. For the second game in a row TCU completed a late inning comeback to walk away with a victory. I'll take it every time, but maybe tomorrow we can get ahead early and win one the old fashioned way. With Howard on the mound, and this lineup, I'm optimistic.