We all know how quickly things can change in a championship series, however, no matter how late it is in the game. In the immortal words of major-league Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra, it isn’t over till it’s over.
UC Irvine (41-23), a team that was probably the least likely of eight CWS teams to make it in, rallied for three runs in the top half of the eighth inning, scoring three runs on five hits and seizing victory from the jaws of defeat to claim a 3-1 win over the Longhorns.
UC Irvine out of the Big West Conference ended the regular season with eight consecutive losses, but the Anteaters have shown up big in the postseason, upsetting national overall top-seed Oregon State in the regional round and then going to Stillwater, Okla., and making short work of the Big 12 regular-season champion Oklahoma State in back-to-back games.
Texas starter Nathan Thornhill had given up just three runs over 37 innings in his previous six starts before UC Irvine broke through to tie the game against Texas with a leadoff single and triple two batters later off the bat of Taylor Sparks, his third hit of the game and the sixth hit off of Thornhill.
Texas coach Augie Gariddo said he never had second thoughts about sending his ace back out to the mound in the eighth. Thornhill had set down the anteaters in order in the top half of the seventh.
“I wouldn’t say I was tired,” Thornhill told reporters afterward. “The first hitter turned on a fastball inside, and the next guy (Sparks) is their best hitter, and he hit a cutter that was down. He sat on it. Great hit.”
The World Series loss was one thing, but the game also brought to an end the remarkable 101-game on-base streak by Texas senior outfielder Mark Payton. Payton, the Longhorns’ best hitter this season, is batting .320 for the season with a team-high 73 hits. The senior outfielder went o-for-4 in the game and failed to reach base for the first time in 101 games.
Garrido compares Payton’s on-base streak to Babe Ruth hitting 714 home runs. “I don’t know how to measure that,” the longtime Longhorn coach said. “It’s a weird record because it’s so long…how do you even get to play 100 games? I think it’s really, really significant.”
Payton nonchalantly brushed it off as something that was bound to come to an end sometime. “So what. We lost,” he said to reporters. “It’s something I didn’t pay attention to.”
You can be sure that Payton and his teammates will be paying attention when the Longhorns (43-20) face elimination in a must-win College World Series game Monday against Louisville (50-16). a 5-3 loser to Vanderbilt in its opening game.