Beaver pitching comes around

On Sports

CORVALLIS - College baseball often is riveting and unpredictable. The only guarantee, most days, is that it will be a long day. Three-plus-hour games are not uncommon.

And everything is reason for a conference. You've got coaches talking to base runners and hitters, coaches talking to pitchers, coaches talking to umpires, teammates talking to teammates and the usual assortment of timeouts, deep counts and slow play.

You can blame metal bats for a lot of this. Inside fastballs that would shatter wooden bats turn into base hits off unbreakable metal bats.

Games often run long because pitchers, partly fearing the power of the metal bat, go for the corners of the strike zone and miss - which leads to a lot of walks and often leads to a lot of runs.

Successful college pitchers mix their respect for hitters and their metal sticks with enough confidence to stay ahead in the count and mount a challenge of their own. They have to push their fears aside.

Because, as Oregon State coach Pat Casey says, 'The thing about sports is, if you have a particular fear, that fear will always hunt you down.'

Will it ever. But to survive the worst fear is to get stronger. And that's what the young OSU pitching staff is doing. After squeezing past Arizona - a team Casey says 'has the best pitching staff in the country' - 3-2 Sunday, the Beavers have won four of their last six Pac-10 games.

Jorge Reyes, who came into the game with a 7.75 ERA and a lot of trips to the coach's doghouse for his inability to throw the ball where he'd like it to go, did a terrific job of holding the Wildcats in check for eight innings, allowing one earned run.

In the ninth, freshman closer Kevin Rhoderick, surely one of the most talented relievers in the country, pitched himself in and out of trouble to earn a heart-pounding save.

Rhoderick has a crackling fastball that reaches somewhere around 95 mph and a slider that some major league pitchers would die for. But he had control issues for the second game in a row.

'I think he probably hasn't pitched enough lately,' Casey says. 'He can be sharper. But still, he's a freshman against a very good team, in front of a lot of people. It's a tough situation.'

For his part, Rhoderick wanted no part of any excuses after loading the bases in the ninth on a hit and two walks.

'Nobody's fault but mine,' he says.

But every pitcher fears most the moments when wildness takes over and the ball just won't go where it's directed. When the bases get loaded, the fear is frighteningly close to taking command. Somehow, though, Rhoderick found a way out of the mess and ended the game with a strikeout.

And on this day - made shorter than usual because of the lack of walks - Casey could smile as he related his philosophy about fear in sports. It was a smile of complete relief.

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