April 1, 2010
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By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
At some point the real Taylor Wall was going to appear, and as the 2010 season unfolded, what was clear was that it was only a matter of when.
Wall filled in admirably when injuries to Rice junior righthanders Ryan Berry and Mike Ojala required Wall to emerge earlier than expected last season. Dazzling postseason outings against Marshall and Kansas State gave indication that Wall was ready for the responsibility that belongs to staff aces, so his struggles this season were atypical and perplexing.
On Thursday night, Wall regained his footing. He tossed a one-hitter at Houston at Reckling Park, leading Rice to a 6-0 victory in the opener of this key Conference USA series and a 2-0 lead in the Silver Glove Series.
"It's frustrating," Wall said after netting his first victory in his seventh start. "Coach (Wayne) Graham called me into his office about a week ago and said, `You're not having fun out there. You've got to have fun to throw the baseball.' Tonight I was just relaxed and having fun and just went out there and pounded the (strike) zone and just made it easy.
"The past couple of outings I've been rushing on the mound with runners on base. My body was going before my arm and I was making some bad pitches, which cost me some runs. Coach Graham was telling me to be patient out there, stay on the back leg a little longer, and I got a couple of ground balls with runners on base and got out of some jams."
Jams? Wall ran into trouble only once, and that was through no fault of his own. A fielding error on Jimmy Comerota, starting at shortstop due to the defensive struggles of All-American Rick Hague, and a catcher's interference call against Diego Seastrunk forced Wall (1-4) to pitch to Houston second baseman Travis Trial with two Cougars on base in a scoreless game in the top of the second inning. Wall induced a harmless fly ball to right field, beginning a string where he retired 10 consecutive batters. Cougars shortstop Blake Kelso drew a four-pitch walk to open the sixth, but Wall worked around a subsequent wild pitch and throwing error on Seastrunk and retired the final 12 batters he faced.
Wall began the game with a sparking batting average against (.213) and a respectable ratio of walks plus hits per innings pitched (1.19), but his bloated ERA (5.61) and winless record were testaments to his struggles with runners on base. He faced just five base runners against Houston.
"He seemed to be finding the outer half of the plate with his fastball early, and it got even better after that," Graham said of Wall, who walked two and struck out seven while throwing an economical 109 pitches. "His changeup was pretty solid the whole game. The slider came and went, but he threw a little harder than he's been throwing."
Said Comerota: "We definitely rode Taylor, and we know what he's capable of and that's what he's capable of. We were happy to see it."
Houston righthander Michael Goodnight (3-3), a Westside High product like Wall, wasn't as efficient. He allowed seven hits and five walks before exiting in the fourth, chased by a Michael Ratterree RBI single. Rice (15-12, 2-2 C-USA) got production up and down its lineup, with Chad Mozingo and Jeremy Rathjen going a combined 6-for-6 in their first 12 at-bats and Ratterree (2-for-4, two RBIs) producing his seventh multi-hit game. An unexpected boost came from the bottom of the order.
With Comerota shifting from first base to short, junior Abel Gonzales made his sixth start and replaced Comerota. Despite batting just .133 on the season, Gonzales reached base in all four plate appearances, including to open the fourth and sixth. He scored on both occasions.
"It's funny because I tell myself the opposite. I tell myself to be aggressive," said Gonzales, who was 1-for-1 with three walks, two runs, and a single in the seventh that scored pinch runner Daniel Gonzales-Luna. "For some reason being patient at the plate comes natural to me, almost too patient where I miss some good pitches to hit. Tonight I didn't get a whole lot to hit, but fortunately I put a good swing on one.
"I thrive on opportunity. All I really want out of baseball is opportunity, and when you get it you've got to jump on it. A night like tonight is a lot of fun. You get to get out there, walk, get a hit, run the bases, whatever."
The Owls and Cougars (12-12, 2-2) will resume their series on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. Rice will claim the Silver Glove trophy with a victory.