NORMAN, Okla. — Skip Johnson can easily connect two historic baseball moments.
First came Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Weries, which earned him the nickname “Mr. October.” Then there was Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.
“The opportunities existed for those guys at that time, and they took advantage of them,” the Oklahoma baseball coach said. “I think those guys that have a low pulse in those situations succeed a little bit more. The guys with the higher pulse, the tendency to let it have a negative effect on them, they struggle in those situations.”
Johnson is trying to lower the Sooners’ pulse. They’ve lost three consecutive games, mainly due to lack of clutch hits.
In its past two outings, OU is 0 for 24 with runners in scoring position. In a five-game span, the Sooners are batting .081 (4 for 49) with runners at second and third base.
This type of slump weighs heavily on hitters, Johnson said. They aren’t lacking hits, just timely ones, and it creates a cumulative effect mentally.
Sometimes not thinking about it is the best solution.
“It’s no different than bowling,” Johnson said. “You’re at 11 strikes in a row and if you think about leaving a 10-pin, then you’re gonna leave a 10-pin.”
OU hopes something changes quickly as it clutches to third place in the Big 12 ahead of this weekend’s home series against TCU (18-9, 3-3 Big 12), which begins at 6 p.m. Friday at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
“That’s partially just the game. You’re gonna be hot, you’re gonna be cold,” sophomore first baseman Tyler Hardman said. “But it’s also the thing about baseball, we talk about it all the time, the more you try the harder it is. You’ve got to stick with what you know and take it as a normal at-bat.”
Hardman leads OU with 29 RBIs.
“Timely hitting is just staying with your approach, not thinking about how there’s two guys on and you need to hit them in,” he said. “It’s doing what you can against the ball and not trying to do anything but hit the ball hard.”
The Sooners (22-8, 4-2 Big 12) nearly rode freshman pitcher Ben Abram’s career performance to a victory against Oral Roberts on Tuesday, but left 13 runners on base and went 0-13 with runners in scoring position.
After that, Johnson added an extra drill to the team’s intrasquad scrimmage.
“We put a man on third base, second and third, with one out and we did a pretty good job with it,” he said. “And of course it’s our pitchers, they know those guys, so it’s a little different.”
Above all, he wants players to clear their heads.
Quality pitching and defense can still help, too. OU’s 2.93 staff earned-run average ranks 12th nationally. Cade Cavalli (4-1, 1.66 ERA) is scheduled to start against the Horned Frogs on Friday after shutting down West Virginia in 2-1 win last week.
“I think it was one of his best outings, being in control of himself,” Johnson said. “It’ll be a good test for him tomorrow to see if he can maintain that consistency of being in control of himself, because he’s gonna fluctuate. He’s really new to pitching and we’ve got to make sure he stays within himself one pitch at a time.”
At Thursday’s practice, assistant coaches Clay Van Hook and Clay Overcash were sure to remind players that having runners on base in the first place is a good thing.
“All we’ve got to get is a big hit,” Johnson said. “It’s gonna happen. We’ve just got to not try to make it happen and let it happen.”
OU baseball weekend schedule
• Game: OU (22-8, 4-2 Big 12) vs. TCU (18-9, 3-3 Big 12)
• Time: 6 p.m.
• Place: L. Dale Mitchell Park
• Pitchers: OU RHP Cade Cavalli (4-1, 1.66 ERA) vs. TCU LHP Nick Lodolo (4-2, 1.12 ERA)
• Radio: KREF 1400 am | 99.3 FM
• TV: FSOK+
• Saturday: 2 p.m. vs. TCU (OU RHP Nathan Wiles (5-1, 3.27 ERA) vs. TCU RHP Charles King (1-1, 2.36 ERA)
• Sunday: 1 p.m. vs. TCU (OU LHP Levi Prater (5-2, 1.59 ERA) vs. TCU LHP Brandon Williamson (2-1, 4.67 ERA)