How Incredible Comebacks Happen In Baseball

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

The anatomy of an enormous comeback is fascinating.

While your run of the mill comebacks happen all the time in baseball, large rallies of seven runs or more are incredibly rare but are worth close inspection.

During the 2017 college baseball season, there have been two colossal comebacks.

The first involved one of the greatest in college baseball history as Oklahoma Christian found itself down 7-1 going into the bottom of the ninth against Northwest Missouri St.

With a runner on first base and two outs, the magic began as seven runs scored with 10 batters ultimately coming to bat as the Eagles pulled off a shocking 8-7 walk-off win.

A combination of five singles, one walk, one hit batter and a double paved the way for the unlikely win.

Another amazing comeback saw Eastern Kentucky take a 9-0 lead at Arizona heading into the bottom of the third. The Wildcats ultimately battled back to win, 16-13 and didn’t even bat in the bottom of the ninth.  Arizona scored all 16 runs from the third to eighth inning.

“Let me first say that when something like this happens, it is rare and incredible,” said Tom Hanson, co-author with Ken Ravizza of the book Heads-Up Baseball 2.0.

“When a team is ahead 9-0 in a game or way ahead in the last inning, they almost always win. When the team that is behind rallies to win, it certainly gets your attention. We recently saw a remarkable comeback during the Super Bowl when New England beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime.”

No team had ever won a Super Bowl when trailing by more than 10 points. But the Patriots were down 28-3 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. Then New England scored 31 unanswered points to stun the Falcons.

“When an unthinkable come-from-behind victory takes place, no matter what sport, the comeback team becomes really locked in with their focus and plays the game one pitch at a time. The team with the big lead loses its focus. Focus is an important performance variable in situations like this.

“On the surface, it looks like the wheels are coming off for the team that is losing the big lead. But there is a psychological mechanism that is taking place.

“Humans are wired to protect things they have. And naturally, when players on such a team see they are starting to lose their grasp of a win, fear comes into the equation and muscles start tightening up. While that is good for hunting and gathering, it is really bad for baseball.

“I would bet that big comebacks take place not only with the offense producing hits, but with the defense helping out whether that be by errors, walks or hit by pitches in some fashion to keep the rally going.

“The fear of losing is a powerful force. Players on these teams tend to look at the future because they need an out or two to win. The team coming back from a huge deficit has nothing to lose, and fear doesn’t come into it.”

Hanson was asked what a team that is experiencing a meltdown of Biblical proportions should do to stop a big comeback.

“What should happen is that coaches must prepare their team for any type of lead or deficit they will face in a game — even being down by nine runs or up by that much. You ask your players in practice how they would approach such scenarios in a game.

“The answer to being up big or down by a large margin is the same. You play the game one pitch at a time. You coach your players in practice to have a competitive process every pitch of every game.

“Then when you get into a game, and you see a 9-0 lead start to vanish, you get your team together and remind them that your team has practiced this situation. They simply must get back to playing the game one pitch at a time so they are focused again. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. But that is the approach I would take.

“You see Olympians practice distractions that may come up or astronauts working on adversity that may take place prior to working in space. Being prepared for any situation like this will help situations from exploding.”

Comeback For Ages
Lonny Cobble, head coach at Oklahoma Christian, said the amazing ninth inning comeback his team had against Northwest Missouri St. was wild.

“We were down 7-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth, and I honestly was thinking about my post-game talk I was going to give our kids,” said Cobble.

“Our first batter grounded out to the shortstop. Then our next batter Jake Baxter singled. Our third batter of the inning struck out swinging. So here we were with a runner on first and two outs in the bottom of the ninth facing a 7-1 deficit.

“One of our backup outfielders and pitchers, Luke Reynolds, made a comment that if nobody makes the last out, we can’t lose. As the inning kept going, it became our rallying cry as other guys started saying and believing it.

“Chase Kuwitzky then singled to left field and Jake Baxter hustled hard from first to make it all the way to third on a very close play. He probably shouldn’t have taken the extra base with two outs in the ninth like that. But it really fired up players in our dugout.

“Our next batter Chad Kennedy walked  as Baxter scored on a wild pitch and Kuwitzky advanced to second. Then their closer Nikko Pablo came in the game to stop the rally with the score 7-2. Isaac Holt has the count go 1-2 to him, and Pablo hits him in the knee which loads the bases.

“Cory Coran singled to left field which knocked in two runs.

“Lane Paul singled to centerfield to score another run. At that point, Drew Wright came in to pinch run for Lane Paul. Then Hayden Strobel singled to left field which scored another run.

“Brady Baugh, who started out the inning with a ground out, came up to bat. He told everyone in the dugout that he would not make two outs in the same inning. He then doubles to right centerfield which knocked in the tying and winning runs as our team went nuts.

“I was in absolute shock that we had won the game and was extremely proud of our guys for not giving up.”

To read more of this article or subscribe, purchase the March 10, 2017 edition by CLICKING HERE. It includes information on how Arizona came back from a 9-0 deficit this season to beat Eastern Kentucky and delves into amazing College World Series comebacks.