I'm not going to try to convince you to like baseball -- odds are that if you're reading this post, you probably already do. And so you know that Friday night's game in the Baton Rouge Super Regional was everything that's great about the game: a tightly fought pitchers duel that broke open in the space of four batters and was decided. At this point, the only real question is whether three hitters ended the series as well as the game.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Because this game was all about the pitchers, and both were spectacular tonight. Even Jonathan Gray, who gave up the first run of the night (and the only one LSU would need), spun a gem. He scattered three of the hits he allowed over 7.1 innings before giving up back-to-back hits that changed the game. Gray also walked a pair and struck out nine.
Aaron Nola, though, was better. The Sooners managed just two hits in Nola's complete game shutout. He struck out six men and walked no one. (He did hit one man, if you want to count free bases overall.) Nola sometimes gets compared to Greg Maddux, and his performance Friday night shows why; even without a ton of strikeouts, he made it almost impossible for Oklahoma's batters to get on base.
As for the fateful eighth, there was no way for Gray or anyone else to see it coming. Gray's pitch count was starting to get elevated, but he's been a workhorse for Oklahoma before. In fact, he had just collected that ninth strikeout when JaCoby Jones tripled to right center, followed immediately by a Tyler Moore double. Even then, the 1-0 lead looked insurmountable. When Mark Laird knocked pinch runner Jared Foster in with a single, almost everyone knew that would more than enough for Nola.
And maybe for LSU in the series. Oklahoma really needed a win from Gray in this one, if for no other reason than the fact that their offense is not as deep as LSU's. If the Sooners can't win with their best pitcher on the mound, it's hard to see them winning too more -- though their second-best guy, Dillon Overton, will get an opportunity to show Saturday night that he's pretty good as well. And it's useful to remember that baseball can change in an instant, as it did for Oklahoma late in Friday night's game.