I know the feeling
Welcome to my world, Arkansas Razorbacks fans.
As a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan, I’m used to disappointing playoff losses and postseason bullpen collapses.
What happened to the Razorbacks on Saturday night in the first round of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., was hard for Arkansas fans to swallow, for sure. After Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn opted to let reliever Cody Scroggins start the ninth inning instead of closer Matt Cronin in a scoreless tie against Florida State, the Seminoles took advantage. By the time Cronin finally got into the game, Florida State was threatening and there wasn’t much he could do to keep the Seminoles from scoring.
I think I understand Van Horn’s thinking: save Cronin for a potential save situation, knowing the game could be extended into an extra-inning situation that would put even more of a premium on quality pitching. Van Horn rolled the dice, and lost.
When a coach or manager is making in-game pitching decisions in the postseason, the stakes are often high.
Watching the game, I was reminded of the 2007 National League Division Series between the Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the opening game, the Cubs started Carlos Zambrano, a big, fiery right-hander who had won 18 games that season.
Zambrano threw 85 pitches in the first six innings, allowing just one run on four hits with eight strikeouts. But with the game tied 1-1 after six innings, Cubs manager Lou Piniella opted to pull Zambrano.
Watching the game in the sports department at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, I told my colleagues (a roughly 50/50 mix of Cubs and Cardinals fans; that was always fun): “This series is over.”
And I was right. The Diamondbacks got to Chicago’s bullpen for two runs in the seventh, then went on to win the game 3-1 and sweep the best-of-5 series in three games. I couldn’t find much consolation in Piniella’s explanation after the Game 1 loss that he was saving Zambrano to pitch a Game 4. As I expected, there was no Game 4.
As I write this, the Razorbacks are playing Texas Tech in an elimination game Monday afternoon. Going into the ninth inning, the Red Raiders lead 4-3 after rallying from a 3-0 deficit.
Add a quick exit from this year’s CWS to the agony of last season’s loss to Oregon State in the championship round, when the Razorbacks were one seemingly harmless foul popup from a national championship, and Arkansas fans are definitely feeling a little like Cubs fans felt during all those crushing disappointments from 1908 through 2015.
As a Cubs fan, my best advice is to keep the faith. One of these years, the Razorbacks’ postseason fortunes are bound to change.