Rebels' Anderson still can't believe it . . .
There’s an old baseball adage that goes something like this: Every time you go to the ballpark, there’s always a chance you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.
At Swayze Field in Oxford last Friday night, more than 9,000 folks — or at least those who hung around until the 13th inning — saw something new, and, at least for Ole Miss fans, something wonderful.
Austin Anderson, in the midst of a banner senior season, provided the drama.
Said Anderson, Monday afternoon: “I still can’t believe it happened.”
It did. It really did. Let’s set the scene: Bottom of the 13th inning. Game tied 5-5. Runners at second and third. Nobody out. Anderson, 2 for 4 on the night with two intentional walks already, stepped to the plate to face Auburn reliever Jay Wade.
Back in the ninth inning Wade had walked Anderson intentionally, but had left one pitch right out over the middle of the plate. Anderson did not swing that time.
“I was too surprised,” he said.
He took the walk and went on down to first base where former Rebel Stephen Head was coaching. Coincidentally, the same thing had happened to Head in a game against Tennessee years ago. Head alertly knocked in the winning run — not with a home run, mind you, but with a two-run single.
So, in the 13th, Anderson was ready. With the catcher signaling for an intentional pass, Wade lobbed in a first pitch right over the middle of the plate, about thigh-high. It was a mistake, a huge mistake.
“I had told myself that if he threw me another strike, I was going to hit it as far and as high as I could to get a sacrifice fly and bring home the winning run,” Anderson said.
He did even better. He hit the ball well over the right centerfield wall, setting off a beer celebration in the student section. Braxton Lee trotted home from third with the winning run and then made a bee-line, full-speed, toward Anderson circling the bases. Anderson put up his hands as if to say, “No, don’t touch me.”
“I wasn’t sure of the rules,” he said. “I wanted to make sure we had the winning run.”
Normally, you always take a walk when it’s given to you, but Mike Bianco called Anderson’s home run “smart baseball. The infield was playing in. All he had to do is lift it to the outfield and you score the winning run. You don’t want to swing at anything way out of the zone, but that pitch was a strike.”
Anderson’s heroics couldn’t have come at a better time. The Rebels had lost four of their last five games. They had played poorly early against Auburn, dropping behind 2-0 and 5-2. After Anderson’s walk-off home run, the Rebels swept two more from Auburn on Saturday.
Anderson leads the Rebels with a .352 average with four homers and eight doubles. His on-base percentage is a nifty, team-leading .447.
Said Bianco, simply: “Austin has been outstanding.”
Former Rebel great Donnie Kessinger, the former Chicago Cubs’ all-star shortstop, has seen more baseball than most of us can imagine, but he has never seen what Anderson accomplished.
“I think, if you look it up, that Hank Aaron might have done it,” Kessinger said.
Not so, Aaron scored the winning run one time when Joe Adcock swung at a pitch during an attempted intentional walk.
Some of the greatest names in baseball have been involved in similar intentional walk episodes. In 1907, Ty Cobb tripled home two runs when Eddie Plank threw one too close to the plate. In 1959, Stan Williams was trying to walk Willie Mays intentionally, but Mays swung and fouled out to the catcher. The Giants lost 2-1. Tug McGraw was trying to walk Joe Ferguson intentionally in 1996, but Ferguson reached out and slapped a two run single. McGraw proceeded to drill the next batter, producing a bench-clearing brawl.
There was no brawl Friday night in Oxford, just a wild celebration. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor by clicking here.