Texas coach David Pierce argues a call during the Longhorns' loss to West Virginia on Saturday. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Freefalling Horns need a slump buster (and fast)

A balk and a bunt lead to Texas' sixth loss in a row.

Posted April 27th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Horns are alone in Big 12 cellar with 5-11 record.
  • "I thought we handed them the ballgame," coach David Pierce says.
  • Texas is in danger of an early offseason.

The Texas Longhorns must summon every baseball slump-busting superstition known to man and employ it before this season gets to the point of no return.

The only thing they do well these days is lose games, and that’s not something you would want to be the best at, especially when you’re the defending Big 12 champions.

It’s a nasty habit they have acquired in David Pierce’s third season at the helm.

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Make it six in a row and counting. The latest came courtesy of the West Virginia Mountaineers, who got a ninth-inning double to tie it before taking advantage of Cole Quintanilla’s balk to set up the eventual winning run.

On a bunt.

Texas made noise in the ninth, but it was futile noise. Duke Ellis hit an absolute rocket — but like so many squared-up balls off Horns bats on Saturday, it was right at somebody. Left fielder TJ Lake reached up and snagged it for the final out, giving the Horns sole possession of the Big 12 cellar with a 5-11 record.

West Virginia 9, Texas 8.

Nine runs surrendered, six of them unearned. Four errors and the third blown ninth-inning lead in the past six games.

Bad baseball.

Pierce sat with his thoughts in the dugout for a few minutes after his team’s fourth straight one-run loss. It’s not that Texas is dropping games but how Texas is dropping games.

“This loss is about … it’s not about West Virginia,” Pierce said. “I thought we handed them the ballgame.”

Funny thing about these slumps. They’re like your most despised relative who arrives unannounced at your doorstep in the middle of the night, empties out the fridge and then persuades your wife to invest two grand in his get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a part of sports that tugs at the gut on a daily basis, and there’s only one cure. Worse yet, when an average baseball team hits the skids, things can be even murkier.

The real bummer is Texas hit the ball well Saturday. The Horns finished with 12 hits, two of them homers, and a two-run double from third baseman Ryan Reynolds. At least four other balls just happened to be hit right at the opposition. Add in Brandon White’s great catch of a Masen Hibbeler drive at the wall in the bottom of the eighth with a man on first, and things could have been different.

The baseball purists would have turned to full-blown superstition by now. A live chicken à la Serrano in “Major League” or maybe even switching cars for one night. Ever hear the one about 2003 Florida Marlins catcher Mike Redmond’s unique idea to end his team’s slump after a 16-22 start resulted in the firing of manager Jeff Torborg? The Marlins were on a horrible losing road trip, and Redmond decided to loosen things up in the indoor batting cage by taking BP in his birthday suit.

“He went in, naked like the day he was born,” legendary Dodgers radio voice Vin Scully said in a 2014 SB Nation interview. “One by one the team noticed and broke up laughing. The entire team was hysterical, until the game started.”

The Marlins won 6-2, went on a six-game winning streak and ended the season as World Series champions.

Texas must figure out a more conventional way to overcome it all. Shortstop David Hamilton tore his Achilles before the season even started and DJ Petrinsky was lost to labrum surgery before the Stanford series. Baseball is about how teams respond to adversity, and the Horns, young bunch that they are, just haven’t made the winning plays at winning time.

This thing isn’t over by a long shot, though the odds are not in their favor to make any real noise in the postseason since there won’t be one if they don’t qualify for the Big 12 Tournament. If it started today, it could coincide with the start of offseason.

Pierce has been around this game for a long time, and he isn’t one to panic with seven conference games remaining — three against Kansas, which sits one game ahead of Texas in the loss column.

“The worst thing I can do is just start yelling and screaming,” he said. “Our guys … their effort is right. We’re just not doing enough good things against really quality teams.”

Zach Zubia, who took his sweet time rounding the bases after his two-run homer tied the game at 5-5 in the fifth inning, understands there is only one cure for a slump.

“Once you get that one win, it’s kind of like a monkey off your back,” he said.

Better hurry before that monkey becomes a gorilla.

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