Take me out to the small-ball game

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Baseball

In head coach Augie Garrido’s utopia, the leadoff batter always finds a way to get on base. The next man up always lays a good sacrifice bunt, taking the out but advancing the runner to second. A few pitches later, the leadoff batter is always crossing home plate, thanks to a hit from either the three- or four-hole man. Runs are always on the board and rallies are never-ending.

Most call it “small-ball,” but locals like to refer to it as “Augie ball.” Garrido has ridden the game plan relying on singles and bunting to historical heights: five national championships and 1,629 career wins, the most all-time of any Division I coach.

Garrido likes the style — he’s never needed too many runs because of the wealth of great pitchers he’s put on the mound, and it’s the best way to score at the cavernous Disch-Falk Field, a venue where it’s sometimes impossible to clear the fences.

“This ballpark favors pitching and defense,” he said. “To score, you have to be able to execute. You need to be able to bunt and to understand the concepts. When you play like this, you need every guy in the lineup to perform consistently in order to score runs.”

The Longhorns will rely on the fundamentals of Augie ball more than ever this year. Gone to the pros are the powerful Cameron Rupp, Kevin Keyes and Russell Moldenhauer and their combined 34 home runs from last season.

The first step to successful small-ball is a good leadoff hitter, one who has a good eye for the ball, can make contact and has first-class speed on the base paths, should he need to steal a base or beat a throw home. Junior Tim Maitland will get first crack at the spot.

“The best player of the fall was Maitland,” Garrido said. “He does everything right, every day. And of course, he’s been productive. He’s certainly earned the leadoff spot.”

Maitland only appeared in 18 games last season and started three. He is one of the fastest guys on the team and is capable of stealing bases, but only logged one run all of last season. After a summer spent practicing and working out, he looks up to the job.

“The main thing I did over the summer was play every day in Alaska,” he said. “I was able to get a lot of at-bats in and just worked seeing the ball. I also hit the weight room and added some muscle.”

Maitland replaces sophomore Cohl Walla, who batted .316 last season. Walla’s play during fall practices resulted in him being moved down in the order.

Once Maitland reaches base, it’ll be junior Brandon Loy’s turn to advance him, a job he’s familiar with, as he hit in the two-hole last year. Loy is a skilled defensive player with a wide range at shortstop, but he’ll be asked to do the dirty work at the plate.

“I’ve embraced this role and the fact that I have to sacrifice an out to get the runner to second,” he said. “My job is to find a way to get him over any way possible. It’s something that I’ve worked hard on.”

Loy will usually be asked to bunt, which forces the throw to first base, thus giving the runner an open route to second — but almost always sending Loy back to the dugout. Garrido once said that he’d bunt with even Babe Ruth at the plate — that the task of effectively getting the leadoff runner to second base is more important to the offense.

Once the leadoff batter is at second, it takes just one hit out of the infield to get him home. That’s where Mark Payton and Paul Montalbano come in.

“It’ll be my job to bring the leadoff batter home,” said Payton, a freshman from Chicago who will hit in the three-hole. “It won’t happen every time, but I have to find a way to get a productive at-bat and get a run on the board.”

Montalbano, a senior who transferred from Weatherford College in 2010 will most likely start the season at the cleanup spot, where he’ll be asked to continue sustaining the rally with a hit.

Though the lineup will undergo changes during the long season, it’ll be up to those four to get Augie ball rolling for now.