Monday, June 27, 2011

the quest that stood on the edge of a knife

I guess I've waited procrastinated long enough; it's best to wait a little while after an awful loss to compose oneself before one puts words out in public that one might regret, or at least that's what I tell myself as an excuse not to write anything all weekend.  (That, and it's now officially the offseason, which means weekends pretty much entirely off, anyway.)

But if the players themselves can go meet the fans less than 24 hours after maybe the most crushing loss in program history, I can probably nut up and write a column.  I guess it's our turn to be on the wrong end of very well-intentioned words that are ultimately of small comfort.  In a year or so, when baseball is back in the spotlight (largely with a very new lineup) we'll still have, on the permanent record for 2011, the most wins in program history**, the highest CWS finish in program history, and another CWS banner on the outfield wall, not to mention the ACC championship.  That'll erase the sting of how we exited.  (Mostly.  Except when something like this happens again, because this managed to remind one of Arkansas and the 2009 CWS with stunning clarity.)

From a much larger perspective, which is a much better way to view Friday night's game, I remind you again of the record-setting season, as well as this: that record-setting season came on the heels of having to replace the majority of the batting lineup and a big chunk of the useful pitching staff.  It's the nature of baseball and draft-eligible juniors; turnover is ever-turning.  Next year we'll see even more of it.  A lot of it.  It would have me extremely apprehensive about the future, but for the successes of this year.

**More years of Brian O'Connor's tenure at UVA have been spent breaking the seasonal wins record than have been spent not breaking it.  At 56 wins it's wicked doubtful that trend can continue but there's still a little bit of room.


Bullet points:

- Filed under "things that sucked about Friday's game," and possibly right on top, was the lost chance to see Danny Hultzen at his magnificent best.  The damnable cruel fates and their whimsical illnesses that strike when you least need them. Here's a guy who's a top-five athlete in Virginia history, proving it: he struck out eight of the ten batters he faced.  A 24-strikeout pace!  The potential was there for the greatest pitching performance in CWS history.  South Carolina fans will say and have said many things about the Friday game, but on the top of the list ought to be "please heathen gods accept this sacrifice of ten virgins in exchange for your benevolence in striking down the most feared warrior of the enemy."  There's no way South Carolina wins that game if Danny Hultzen's innards aren't infested with viruses sent by Beelzebub himself.

- Another awful thing about being on the wrong end of a game that swung on the edge of a razor: the natural instinct to second-guess.  I shouldn't, but I can't help myself.  Personal top two: given the lack of success at the plate, I'd have given some real thought to a suicide squeeze, and is Reed Gragnani's glove in center really so bad that you'd rather have Shane Halley's bat?  I was taken aback to see Gragnani replaced after pinch-hitting.  It came back to bite us in the worst way when Halley bounced weakly into a bases-loaded double play.

- Besides Hultzen, the second-most deprived player of the day was John Barr, whose heroics are now lost to the annals of time.  Barr went 3-for-6 and hit the ball on the screws in his final at-bat.  His only failure was a violation of Willie Keeler's maxim ("hit 'em where they ain't"); had his line drive been directed a couple of feet in any other direction he'd have been the hero of the hour with a 4-for-6, 2-RBI performance in a likely win.  And no, I don't fault Colin Harrington for getting doubled off, Barr's liner was hit too hard and he had little to no chance to get back to the bag.

- More silver lining from Friday: Tyler Wilson earning the Senior CLASS Award.  I tend to balk at awards where the first name in it is the name of a moneymaking company, but this is one where you make an exception.  In this case it means you have the privilege of rooting for some very outstanding people, so congratulations are in order from all corners.

- A three-part series is coming up in the near future wherein I will offer up a look at next year's lineup possibilities and quickly profile the incoming freshmen.  That starts Wednesday, so stay tuned.

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