Coming off of a sweep of the (bad) Tennessee Volunteers and in a position to improve its postseason stock, one would think the nationally ranked Ole Miss Rebels would make mincemeat out of a mediocre Sun Belt team during an otherwise non-noteworthy midweek matchup. Instead, they lost by five runs to Arkansas State last night, sucking some wind out of their post-sweep sails and failing to avoid an easy RPI damaging trap.
If you, like me, said "well, that figures" or "WAOM" or, really, anything along those lines of self-deprecation and honest awareness, then you too have noticed that this baseball program has shown an continued inability to defeat even inferior opponents when something significant is on the line. Furthermore, this team has been especially bad this season at winning close-fought contests, oftentimes losing late via sudden bouts of ineptitude or the inability to seize victory when it presents itself.
This season, Ole Miss is 4-6 in games decided by one run. Against the SEC, Ole Miss is 2-4 in games decided by one run. What's most frustrating about that is that, in those four one-run losses to SEC teams, the Rebels blew leads late and, in one particularly maddening case, failed to score when the opportunity to do so presented itself often.
The four one-run Rebel victories are:
- A 2-1 win over Central Arkansas, a game that was truncated due to rain. The Rebels took the lead in the bottom of the fifth and won in seven.
- A 2-1 win over Miami of Ohio where the Rebels led 2-0 for much of the game. The Redhawks scored one run in the top of the ninth.
- A 2-1 win over Auburn where the Rebels took the lead in the 4th inning, after which neither team would score
- A 1-0 win against Arkansas in a pitchers duel. Seven hits were accumulated total in the game. The Rebels scored the game's only run in the bottom of the sixth.
Those are pretty straightforward baseball games. Little 2-1 wins where a couple of runs come against middle relief or a slowing starter are pretty common in baseball. The one-run Rebel losses, though, are a bit more uncommon and improbable:
- An 8-9 loss to Miami of Ohio. The Rebels gave up seven runs in the first three innings and had to rally the entire way to keep it close. After a big third inning and fourth, fifth, and seventh innings which all saw the Rebels score a run, the Rebels were down by a run and needed just two innings to get it. Four strikeouts, a single, and a GIDP later, the Rebels lost. After demonstrating significant offensive prowess for much of the game, the team went completely limp. This particular game, though, really isn't all that frustrating in retrospect. It's an outlier, for sure, but those do happen in this sport. It's also harder to argue that the Rebels "should" have won this game, considering the runs surrendered early on.
- A 3-4 loss to Louisville which shares some similarities to the Miami of Ohio loss. The Cardinals scored three runs in the bottom of the first. The Rebels fought back and even came within one run in the top of the ninth. With the score at 3-4 and two men on with only one out, Senquez Golson flew out and Alex Yarbrough grounded out. Ballgame, Cardinals. Still, the Rebels were the away team in this contest, so it's really tough to gauge any sort of shortcomings regarding a failure to capitalize.
- A 3-2 loss to Auburn, which really begins the trend of losing winnable games in late innings. Leading 2-1 headed into the ninth inning, the Rebels recorded two outs against Auburn and were just a few pitches away from winning. Mike Mayers had pitched the whole game pretty well up until that point, but began to unravel as soon as Auburn applied the pressure. A double led to another double, meaning an Auburn scored run, which would then lead to the substitution of Brett Huber. Huber gives up a single which scores Auburn's second run before retiring the final batter of the inning. Auburn mounted a two-run rally, to which we answered with a walk, a sac bunt, a strike out then a flyout. We had Auburn against the ropes, but they fought back and won, embarrassing us in the process.
- A 3-2 loss to Alabama on a two-run walkoff in the bottom of the ninth. Alabama is 7-20 in the SEC. Just think about it.
- A 3-2 loss to Kentucky which I still maintain is wholly the fault of an umpire who called multiple Rebel runners out at home while giving Kentucky runners the luxury of a run. I know I may sound like I'm whining here (I am), but the Rebs got 14 hits and left 10 on base on the way to scoring two runs. TWO. That's nearly impossible. The Wildcats took advantage of this, scoring in the sixth and eighth innings to take the lead. The Rebels, in the top of the ninth, got two runners on base with one out, before a strikeout and a groundout to end the game.
- A 4-3, 13 inning loss to LSU which was a loss that annoyed me enough to cause a bit of a Twitter shitstorm (a Twitstorm?) that lasted the rest of the weekend among myself and a handful of more, let's say, "devoted" Rebel baseball fans. Though, after you see exactly how this team managed to completely piss away this game, I believe that you too will find my assertion that this team is wholly incapable of winning a close, important game in late innings to be entirely true.
In this ballgame, LSU took the early 2-0 lead after third inning. Ole Miss would score one in the bottom of the sixth and two in the bottom of the seventh to pull ahead, 3-2. LSU would score one more run in the top of the eighth. No score in the bottom of the eighth or the top of the ninth meant that the Rebels would need but one run to win in the bottom of the ninth. They didn't get it. They got a flyout, a walk, and two more flyouts, so on to extra innings we went.
As the score suggests, LSU wouldn't score again until the 13th inning, and in the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th only totaled one man on base, so they were largely inept offensively in the late innings, meaning that I won't go into detail about their offense in favor of doing the same for ours.
In the 10th, the Rebels got a fly out, two singles, then two strikeouts, so that's two men LOB.
In the 11th, a strikeout, a single, a HBP, a flyout and a groundout, meaning two more LOB.
The 12th, a single, a sac bunt, a walk, a strikeout, and an intentional walk loaded the bases. Then a line out to the shortstop. The Rebels loaded the bases, but scored no runs, leaving three on base.
LSU would score their winning run in the top of the 13th. The Rebels would, in the bottom of the 13th, a flyout, a walk, a strikeout, and then a final flyout would mean one more man left on base.
Add that up, and you'll see that in the innings where Ole Miss needed just one run to walk off with a win, they left eight men on base. On multiple occasions, they threatened to score and didn't, right after their pitching and defense shut down an otherwise capable LSU offense.
Repeatedly, this team has failed to come through under pressure. Last night's game, in a way, serves as a microcosm of this entire season - we're talented enough to win, but somehow are not capable of doing so in the clutch.
Don't take this as a "oh boo hoo woe is us we lost to Awkansaw State" type of post, though last night's loss certainly was the impetus for this little exploration into our 2012 season. While last night's loss during a time when this team could use all the wins it can get to better its postseason positioning certainly was frustrating in a vacuum, it more serves as continuing evidence of this program's inability to capitalize when opportunities arise. To put it simply, this program does not possess a killer instinct, something which has been apparent for most of 2012 and most of the seasons preceding it.