Note to the pitchers in Omaha: Beware. Kody Clemens is coming.
It’s been a simple script for the Texas Longhorns this season: Get solid pitching and ride the Clemens wave offensively. Tennessee Tech found out the hard way. Pitch to Clemens. Suffer. Lose.
Texas 5, Tennessee Tech 2.
Clemens supplied more lumber Monday and became the third member of his family to qualify for the College World Series, thanks to some clutch pitching from his teammates and Tech’s willingness to challenge him.
“It means a lot,” Clemens said. “You know Kacy (Clemens) and all my brothers have told me that it’s the best time of your life. My dad (Roger) definitely said it was one of his favorite moments ever playing baseball. I think that everyone is pretty excited, I’m definitely super-excited. It’s going to be a fun time and we have unfinished business.”
Coach David Pierce figured out a long time ago that the object is to win without over-coaching. He let his players be themselves, including his bell cow. Clemens is his father’s son between the lines — brash, apologetically confident, unrelenting and cocky. For those Texas fans who have ripped into Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield in the past, Kody carries himself with the same kind of unabashed swagger.
“Come and get me,” is the message to the competition. For those who have accepted the challenge, the result has often been more one-sided than a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet.
When a hitter is in the middle of the kind of tear that Clemens has been on — 11 homers in his last 15 games and a .500 batting average in the NCAA tournament — you remind yourself that this doesn’t happen every day.
His 24 home runs for the year are just one behind national leader Spencer Torkelson of Arizona State. He’s four off Kyle Russell’s school record of 28. Unlike Torkelson, who played for a 23-32 team, Clemens has had to deliver at money moments for a team that is hitting .272 for the season. In case you’re wondering, that’s the lowest batting average for the eight CWS qualifiers.
“This young man is the best hitter in college baseball when the game is on the line,” Pierce said. “And he’s proven that from the very beginning to right now. It wasn’t the first month (when it was) cold or the back end of the season, he’s been doing it since day one.”
Tennessee Tech coach Matt Bragga agonized for three games on how to deal with the scariest player still playing in college baseball, and who could blame him? Clemens is scorching the ball. The only thing hotter than the Rocket’s youngest son is that 120-degree Disch-Falk turf that burned his right hand on a head-first slide in the seventh inning.
After Sunday’s Game 2 loss, Bragga said he might just walk Clemens every time in Monday’s finale. I guess there’s something about the spirit of competition and the fact that Clemens stepped to the plate with the bases empty his first two at-bats that changed Bragga’s mind. Clemens’ two-out single in the first yielded no runs but his third-inning fly ball to left field kept going and going and going until it left the park, an opposite field homer that was a testament to his power, the friendly wind at Disch-Falk and this massive hot streak he’s been on.
“Thank you, wind,” Clemens said after the game.
Sometimes you have to tip your hat to greatness and the Tech contingent had no problem doing so.
“Early in the game, right or wrong, we’re going to challenge guys. And he beat us,” Bragga said.
“He’s incredible,” said Tech first baseman Chase Chambers. “Just watching how he approaches his at-bats. He’s very selective and he has a great feel for the strike zone. It seems like every time he put the ball in play it was solid contact. He’s just an incredible hitter and I think he will do big things.”
Monday hero Parker Joe Robinson has had the best seat in the house for the better part of the season. He and several of Clemens’ other teammates got wind that Bragga was thinking about giving Clemens a free pass only to watch Clemens do to Tech starter Alex Hursey what he’s done to most everyone else: Punish him.
“They should not have pitched to him,” Robinson said.
As the scene switches to the sport’s biggest stage, the question will be asked again: How do you stop Kody Clemens?
The answer is simple. Stay away. Stay far, far away.