Robin Ventura’s Record-Breaking NCAA Hit Streak, and His Mets Playoff “Grand Slam” in 1999

One of the most popular posts on this blog has been the description of Robin Ventura’s fight with Nolan Ryan. That humbling moment is now a caricature of Ventura’s career, and to go beyond that caricature, here are descriptions of probably Ventura’s two best feats as a ballplayer. First, the AP describing his hitting streak at Oklahoma State in 1987:

OMAHA, Neb. — Robin Ventura had no complaint about an official scorer’s ruling that brought his NCAA-record 58-game hitting streak to an end.

“It was an error. I knew right then it wasn’t a hit.’ Ventura said of his final-at bat, in the ninth inning of Oklahoma State’s 6-2 victory over Stanford on Thursday night.

Ventura , Oklahoma State’s sophomore All-American third baseman, was 0-for-4 when he came to bat for the final time. Ray Ortiz singled with two out off Stanford reliever Al Osuna to give Ventura a fifth chance to extend the streak .

The left-handed- hitting Ventura hit a hard one-hopper to Stanford second baseman Frank Carey, who knocked the ball down, then threw wildly to first base.

Lou Spry, the NCAA’s official scorer, said he delayed a decision on the play because of the one- or two-error call. He elected to rule the play one two-base throwing error.

While he was making the decision, a crowd of 14,408 at Rosenblatt Stadium chanted “hit, hit, hit’ until the scoreboard flashed “error.’ Then a chorus of “boos’ rang out. That was followed by applause in appreciation of Ventura ‘s streak .

Ventura had flied out to center, flied out deep to left-center, hit a soft liner to third and flied out to short center his first four times up against Stanford starter Jack McDowell.

McDowell, a hard-throwing right-hander, was the fifth player taken in Tuesday’s Major League amateur player draft. The Cardinal All-American was selected by the Chicago White Sox.

“Jack McDowell is a good pitcher and I swung at some pitches that I shouldn’t have,’ Ventura said. “I’ve still got to go out and play the game tomorrow. It doesn’t matter that my streak was broken because we’re not playing for the national title.’

The victory assured the Cowboys, the only unbeaten team in the competition, of a berth in the championship game, either Saturday or Sunday.

Ventura entered the game with a .432 batting average, tops for Oklahoma State.

“I’ve very proud of Robin Ventura and his accomplishments and the manner he has conducted himself during the streak ,’ Oklahoma State Coach Gary Ward said. “His courage and attitude in handling the situation is more impressive than the streak itself. I’m sad to see it end.’

Ventura this spring smashed his own school-record- hitting – streak of 24 games set as a freshman a year ago. He hit .469 on the season and .600 in the College World Series last year.

In the Big Eight post-season tournament last month, Ventura snapped the old NCAA hitting streak record of 47 games by Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson.

Ventura had hit safely in all but four games in which he has played this season. He had three hits in eight at-bats in two previous CWS games this year.

“It doesn’t matter that my streak was broken because we’re now playing for the national title,’ Ventura said after his 0-for-5 performance Thursday night when Oklahoma State defeated Stanford 6-2 on the eighth day of the College World Series.

The Cowboys are 3-0 and the only undefeated team left in the double-elimination tournament. They are guaranteed a spot in the championship game, which they will play Saturday or Sunday against either Stanford, Louisiana State or Texas, all 2-1.

Ventura has been the center of attention during the series, and he even got a compliment earlier in the week from Joe DiMaggio, the New York Yankees star whose major-league hitting streak record of 56 games, set in 1941, still stands.

“I don’t care what league you’re in, it’s not easy hitting in 58 games in a row,’ DiMaggio said in New York.

In late May 1987, the Dallas Morning News had profiled Ventura when his streak was at 56:

It started innocently on March 17th against North Carolina. And it began climbing. No big deal. Ventura , a sophomore, had enjoyed hitting streaks in the past. He set an Oklahoma State record with 24 as a freshman. He came into the season with a 14-game streak , but went he hitless in the opener.

This year, the hits kept coming. Usually in the early innings — only twice in his streak did Ventura wait until his last at-bat.

“At Kansas, when it was around 32 or something,’ Ventura said. “I came up to my last at bat, got a 3-2 count and singled. That’s probably the closest.’

When the Cowboys beat Oklahoma in the Big Eight championship game, Ventura extended his streak with an 11th-inning single.

Ventura broke the NCAA record of 47 by Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson. He tied the most famous hitting – streak — Joe DiMaggio’s major league-record 56 for the New York Yankees in 1941 — on Monday when Oklahoma State beat Texas A&M in the Mideast Regional final. He did it with a home run in his first at-bat.

Ventura will try to extend it Friday when the Cowboys open the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

He still has several streaks ahead of him. DiMaggio had a 61-game streak in the minors. And in 1919, Wichita’s Joe Wilhoit set the pro record by getting hits in 69 consecutive games.

“I’m much more interested in us winning than in keeping a streak going,’ Venutra said. “The streak takes so much luck. You have to hit the ball hard, but even then you can hit it right at somebody.

“But as long as we win, I’d go 0-for-1 and walk four times. The only thing that would bother me about it stopping is that it would mean I went a game without a hit. I don’t like to do that.’

One reason, Ventura came to Oklahoma State, though, was the attention given the Cowboys’ strong program. He has fit in nicely.

He even exhibits an OSU trademark — taking a long time at the plate. Coach Gary Ward stresses that a hitter needs to have a relaxed concentration at the plate — even if it takes a few seconds.

Ventura takes 13. His ritual — smooth the ground with his foot, tap both shoes with bat, take two practice swings, touch helmet and spit on his batting gloves. He does it before every pitch.

Ventura has carried a reputation as a hitter to be feared since he was at Righetti High School in Santa Maria, Calif. He was even intentionally walked with the bases loaded. He had 30 walks in 20 games — 17 intentionally.

A California friend, former OSU player John Duvall, suggested Ventura look at the Cowboys.

“I liked Oklahoma State as soon as I visited and saw a couple of games,’ Ventura said. “I had just visited UCLA, and I think I was the only one in the stands.’

Ward has established a successful pipeline to California that has also brought Rangers left fielder Pete Incaviglia from Pebble Beach to Stillwater.

Ventura ‘s .469 batting average last season broke Incaviglia’s single-season record of .463 set in 1985.

Even with his hitting streak , Ventura ‘s average is down this season — all the way to .434. He has 21 homers, 107 RBIs, 23 doubles and 108 hits.

While he’d seem to be a candidate for a collegiate walk record, he’s had only 61. The Cowboys make that a poor strategy by surrounding him with eight other hitters who possess a .300 average or better. Eight of the Cowboys’ nine starters have 10 or more home runs.

And, here is the AP article on Ventura’s grand slam single on October 17, 1999:

There was confusion about the score, but one thing was certain after one of the wackiest – and greatest – games in playoff history: The New York Mets are still alive in the NL championship series.

Robin Ventura ‘s grand slam -turned-single drove home the winning run in the 15th inning and gave the Mets an improbable 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5, capping baseball’s longest postseason contest.

“If we come back and win this series, this will go down as one of the great games in history,” Orel Hershiser said after the 5-hour, 46-minute epic. “One of the ones they show on the sports classic channel and cut out some of the dry parts, although there will be hardly any.”

The 482-pitch game ended in confusion, with two runners crossing the plate while Ventura was mobbed by teammates before he could get to second base. Workers pulled up the bases, the umpires left the field, and no one knew the score: 4-3, 5-3 or 7-3.

“I never saw it go out. Did it?” Mets manager Bobby Valentine asked as reporters told him of the confusion about the score. “Then it’s a grand slam. But he never touched the bases? I’ll be doggone!”

About 10 minutes after the game, official scorer Red Foley announced that Ventura was credited with a run-scoring single and the final was 4-3. But the umpires insisted the score was 5-3, counting both runners who came home before the celebration. Finally, the NL ruled it 4-3, saying Foley and the Elias Sports Bureau were responsible for the final decision.

“The game ends in sudden death when the winning run scores,” Elias spokesman Steve Hirdt said. “The only exception is on a home run, assuming the player rounds all the bases. He never rounded the bases.”

It didn’t matter. The Mets forced a Game 6 in Atlanta on Tuesday night.

“I’m just glad we’re actually going back after getting down 3-0,” Ventura said.

The Braves still lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, but this was another devastating blow after losing the previous night 3-2 on John Olerud’s two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning.

Atlanta was three outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1996 after Keith Lockhart’s two-out, run-scoring triple in the top of the 15th broke a 2-2 tie – the first run scored in the game since the third.

But the Mets, who had to win their final four games of the regular season to make the playoffs, would not die.

After fouling off pitch after pitch, Shawon Dunston led off the home half of the 15th with a single to center against 22-year-old rookie Kevin McGlinchy, who then walked pinch-hitter Matt Franco.

Edgardo Alfonzo bunted the runners to second and third before McGlinchy walked Olerud intentionally to load the bases. Todd Pratt, who entered the game in the 14th after Mike Piazza suffered a strained right forearm, walked on five pitches to force in the tying run.

With the Shea Stadium crowd drowning out the sound of jets taking off from nearby LaGuardia airport, Ventura, who was 1-for-18 in the series, drove a 1-1 pitch over the right-field wall for an apparent grand slam.

Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Robin Ventura Charging Nolan Ryan

Here’s how the Chicago Tribune described the August 4, 1993 game that’s famous for Nolan Ryan “giving noogies” to Robin Ventura, as Ventura called them:

The Alamo was a fraternity party compared to what the White Sox and Texas Rangers did to each other Wednesday night.

The Sox and Rangers took time out from a perfectly mundane baseball game to square off in one of the nastiest, dirtiest brawls to hit the plains of Texas in quite a spell.

When it was all over, the Rangers delighted a crowd of 32,312 by coming from behind to knock out the Sox 5-2.

The win was almost a must for the third-place Rangers, who used it to climb back to 5 1/2 behind the division-leading Sox with one game yet to play in a suddenly ugly series.

Nolan Ryan started the free-for-all by drilling Robin Ventura on the right elbow with a fastball in the third inning.

Ventura was incensed. He took Ryan’s actions to be retaliation, plain and simple, for a series of incidents.

“If you know the game, it’s no secret what he was doing,” said Ventura, his elbow encased in an elastic brace. “If you don’t think he did it on purpose, you don’t know the game.”

Ventura’s reasoning is backed by some pretty solid circumstantial evidence.

First was the timing: Ventura was hit just one inning after Sox starter Alex Fernandez plunked Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez-the fourth Ranger to be hit by a pitch in three games this season.

In addition to that, Ventura was the logical target if Ryan wanted to retaliate against anyone. Ventura had singled in the first inning off Ryan to give the Sox a 1-0 lead.

Ryan has a long reputation for throwing at hitters. He drilled Sox infielder Craig Grebeck in the back in 1990 after Grebeck and shortstop Ozzie Guillen had hit rare homers off him back-to-back.

Last year, Ryan was ejected from a game for the first and only time in his career after he threw at Willie Wilson, who had tripled off him.

Ventura had been hit on the same elbow just two weeks ago by Milwaukee’s Cal Eldred.

As soon as he was hit this time, Ventura grimaced in pain. He took a couple of steps toward first base, then thought better of it. Instead, Ventura took a sharp left turn, threw his batting helmet to the ground and charged Ryan.

Ryan locked Ventura in the kind of armlock usually reserved for branding steers and started flailing away with punches. Five roundhouse shots in a row landed on top of Ventura’s head.

“He gave me a couple of noogies on my head and that’s about all,” said Ventura.

Ryan was still swinging when a mass of humanity from both benches descended upon him.

“I’ve had a couple of confrontations in my career, but nothing of that nature,” said Ryan, who gave away 20 years to Ventura in the Battle of Arlington.

“All I know is I was on the bottom of the pile and it felt like their whole team was on top of me. In that situation, you’re totally at the mercy of your teammates.”

Texas coach Mickey Hatcher left the field with blood streaming down his face. He had a butterfly bandage on the wound in the clubhouse and said it was minor.

Usually mild-mannered Sox manager Gene Lamont was in the middle of things from start to finish and came out worse for the effort. Lamont had a trick knee go out on him when someone clipped him from the side.

To add insult to injury, Lamont was ejected from the game. So was Ventura.

But Ryan was allowed to stay and he pitched magnificently the rest of the night. He faced 13 batters and got 14 outs because he quickly got revenge for the fight by picking off Craig Grebeck, who had gone to first base to run for Ventura when things calmed down.

“I think he should have been thrown out of the game,” Lamont said of Ryan. “He hit Robin and he was the one throwing the punches. He should have been ejected, too.”

Lamont defended Ventura’s decision to charge the mound.

“Robin thought he was throwing at him and he did exactly what he should do,” said Lamont. “It’s strange that that was the only pitch that got away from him all night.”

And it was. Ryan (3-3) worked seven innings and gave up just two runs on three hits. It was his longest outing of the year and easily his feistiest.

Alex Fernandez (12-6) had his worst outing in more than a month.

“(The fight) didn’t bother me at all,” said Fernandez. “I thought I had Palmeiro struck out on the pitch before the home run. I only made one bad pitch and that was the double to Franco.”

That pitch was a lot more costly than the one bad one that Ryan made to Ventura.

Since this moment seems to be the main way people who aren’t White Sox or Mets fans and didn’t watch his record-breaking hitting streak at Oklahoma State in 1987 remember Robin Ventura, and is also one of the most famous moments in Rangers history outside of 2010, I thought I’d look up some things that provide context on it.

After Ventura charged him, Ryan had hit 158 batters, been ejected for it only once and been charged by a hitter three times-including Willie McCovey, and Dave Winfield as a San Diego Padre in 1980-Dave landed at least one punch. There is, I assume, no video of that fight, but the AP reported the game this way:

Cesar Cedeno drove in four runs as the Houston Astros defeated San Diego, 9-5, tonight in a game that saw Dave Winfield, the Padre star, ejected in a bench-clearing brawl.

Winfield watched two Nolan Ryan fastballs sail high and inside in the fourth inning before charging the mound and igniting a brawl that delayed the game 11 minutes.

Ryan had hit Ozzie Smith with a pitch in the third inning, and when Ryan’s second inside pitch sent Winfield sprawling in the fourth, he charged the mound.

The home-plate umpire, Jerry Dale, tried to restrain Winfield, but he landed a couple of blows to Ryan’s head as both benches emptied. Cedeno hit two nearly identical doubles down the third-base line in a game in which the Astros scored five runs in the fourth and four in the seventh.

The next time Ryan faced Winfield it was the 1985 All-Star Game, and he flattened Winfield with a high fastball.

Nolan said: “Dave threw a punch and then we wrestled to the ground. I decided then I wasn’t going to take it the next time it happened. I made up my mind after that that if anybody came out there, I wasn’t going to be passive about it. They are coming out trying to hurt you. You have to defend yourself. You can call it self-preservation.”

It’s no surprise that the White Sox weren’t happy after the game. Ellis Burks: “I hit two home runs off him in a game and the next time I faced him in Boston he started me off with a curveball for a strike. The next pitch was up and in and hit me in the head.” USA Today said when Burks came up against Ryan the next time, Ryan came in on him again, and Ellis tried to charge the mound, but catcher Geno Petralli stopped him.

Jack McDowell: “The whole world stops when that guy pitches, like he’s God or something. He’s been throwing at batters forever, and people are gutless to do anything about it. I was glad Robin went out. Someone had to do it. He’s pulled that stuff wherever he goes.

“Too bad he doesn’t show up for his team until the next time it’s his turn to pitch. He’ll be home on the ranch. You watch, his team will fall just short again while he shows up on the DL.”

Ryan, who tried to get at Black Jack in the post-noogie fracas, said: “He was mouthing off and I got tired of it. I don’t like to hear from someone who has three or four other people protecting him.”

Finally, Bo Jackson was with the White Sox in 1993, and the Chicago Tribune had an interesting note on his role in the brawl:

Bo Jackson didn’t have much of an impact in the game, striking out in his only at-bat as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning.

But he sure made a difference in the brawl between the White Sox and Rangers Wednesday night.

Just knowing Jackson was around had Texas players, coaches and even their team owner looking over their shoulders.

“I had ahold of somebody and I poked my head up and saw Bo running toward the pile,” said Ranger outfielder Donald Harris. “I quick poked my head back down and tried to stay out of the way.”

George W. Bush, general partner of the Rangers, was in a box seat near the Texas dugout when the brawl broke out and said he considered for a second running onto the field.

“I thought about it, but then I saw Bo coming out and decided to stay where I was,” said Bush.

Published in: on August 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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