BLOOMINGTON – They said they’re not shattered. They said they’ll be back, as surely as Monday follows Sunday. They said this was one loss, and that happens in baseball.
It won’t take long to find out if the Indiana Hoosiers are right, or just whistling past the Stanford Cardinal.
Just what does a team do after having a regional-clinching game blow up in its face like an exploding cigar?
We’re going to take a shower, go eat, sleep, get up and come ready to play baseball, coach Tracy Smith said after Stanford blew past Indiana 10-7 Sunday. It’s pretty simple.
Simple? Well, we’ll see. For Sunday was the kind of here-one-minute, gone-the-next moment that could linger, if a team lets it.
This is what College World Series fever looks like. A packed house Sunday night, too entranced to be bothered by the rain, using pizza boxes for cover. And a sign held up beyond the Bart Kaufman Field centerfield wall: If you build it
And this is what being close enough to an NCAA regional championship to pull a Lance Stephenson and blow in its ear looks like. The Hoosiers ahead 6-4 in the eighth, needing only four more outs to dispose of Stanford and move on another week, toward the College World Series.
And this is what killing the mood looks like. Wayne Taylor coming off the bench and promptly sending a slider over the wall in left center for a three-run homer. You could have heard a peanut shell drop in the ballpark.
And now, this is what anxiety looks like for the Hoosiers.
A game that fell apart at the end and was lost 10-7. Another game to play today against a Stanford team that had every reason to fade away Sunday evening, but didn’t. This time, there is no second chance for Indiana.
This time, defeat means the end.
A lot of hopes and dreams and expectations are on the line today. All that the Hoosiers have become, all that they planned on doing, now teeters on the edge.
This being a basketball town, the masses should appreciate what today is all about. It’s one-and-done in Bloomington.
I’ve been around the game a long time, Smith said. There’s good wins and there’s tough losses. It’s a loss. We’ve got our own destiny in our hands.
They had Stanford by the throat Sunday. Or so it seemed. But the Cardinal survived by inflicting damage on several of the Hoosiers’ most shining statistics.
Indiana had gone 39-0 this season when leading after the seventh inning.
Now it’s 39-1.
The Hoosiers had allowed 10 home runs in 57 games.
Stanford hit three in eight innings Sunday.
Indiana was 39-6 in two years at Bart Kaufman Field.
Make that 39-7.
Reliever Jake Kelzer had not allowed a run since March 26.
That streak lasted two pitches Sunday. Not awful pitches, but one of them was hit 400 feet.
Indiana gave up 10 runs in four games in the entire Big Ten tournament.
Stanford scored that many in one day.
Baseball, Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber said, is a fickle game.
So the situation is precarious. The Hoosiers have come of age with a veteran lineup on a single mission; get back to Omaha and the College World Series. The Big Ten championship was exhilarating and glorious, the 44 wins an extraordinary feat.
But one goal rose above all else, and now its chances rest on a single day, against a traditional baseball blue blood that has been winning postseason games like this for decades.
It happens. It’s baseball, Schwarber said of the clincher that went poof. We’re going to be out there ready to go, and play for our tournament life.
As the game moved into the ninth inning Sunday, a rainbow appeared in the sky beyond the center-field wall. Perhaps an omen. But for whom?