COUGARS • UPDATED: 5 P.M.
The Washington State Cougars' baseball team was as hot as anyone down the stretch of the Pac-10 season, winning 9 of its final 12 conference games. We have a story examining one of the main reasons behind the surge for tomorrow's S-R, but you can read the unedited version on the link now.
• UPDATE: With Ken Griffey Jr.'s retirement this afternoon, the space in the paper devoted to the following story was turned over to that topic. The story on the link will now run in the S-R Friday morning.
• Here's the rough draft of the story ...
PULLMAN – With less than a month left in the regular season, the Washington State Cougars were in trouble.
They had just opened May by losing two of three at Oregon, scoring just four runs in the process. They were 6-9 in the Pac-10, in eighth place and reeling. They needed something, a jump start, a transfusion, anything to save the season.
They got it. WSU won 12 of its last 15 games including 9 of its last 12 Pac-10 contests to surge into the NCAA tournament where the Cougars will face Kansas State in Fayetteville, Ark., Friday night.
Was it a fiery speech, a newfound pitcher, a red-hot masher that sparked the run? No. It was something much more subtle.
"The biggest thing was moving Cody (Bartlett) into the two hole," WSU coach Donnie Marbut said of the WSU rebound. "When he went into the two, we kind of started rolling a little bit."
Really? There has to be more to it than just moving the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Bartlett from ninth to second in the lineup, doesn't there?
Even Bartlett thinks so.
"I don't know if moving me up there was much of a difference for the team," said the fourth-year junior from Kentwood High, "but I do think we all kind of picked it up and things got rolling for us and we ran with it."
But the numbers are hard to refute.
After Bartlett was elevated to the two hole in the last game at Oregon (he was 1 for 2 as WSU lost 6-1), the Cougars averaged 8.9 runs a game in Pac-10 play. Before that, they averaged 5.1. They scored in double figures four times; before, just once.
"It was something new," Marbut said of the lineup change. "You're getting a guy in the two hole who is swinging the bat well. And you've got a guy with a little bit of thump. Even though he's a little guy, he'll hit some doubles, some home runs for us."
Yet despite the offense's success, Bartlett's numbers have leveled. He was hitting .321 when moved up in the lineup, with four home runs and 18 RBIs. Since, the second baseman has hit .305, with just one home run, though he has 12 RBIs.
And, if where he's swinging it has changed, the swing hasn't.
"I've always been told, since I was a small guy, don't get cheated," said Bartlett, who doesn't, having been known to nearly fall down while unloading on a 3-1 fastball. "I don't like to take a small hack."
Despite Bartlett's protestations, his approach at the plate has changed some.
"He's doing a good job of situational hitting too. When he's got to move runners he can do that," Marbut said.
The situation Bartlett finds himself in most often is hitting with leadoff batter Garry Kuykendall on base in front of him.
Kuykendall, a junior, leads the Cougars (34-20) with 12 stolen bases though his .362 on-base percentage (he's hitting .275) isn't as high as Marbut might like.
"He's probably one of the better runners on our team," Bartlett said, "so I kind of work off him. He's kind of free to go whenever he wants, so if he gets a good jump, I'll take a pitch."
With Kuykendall and Bartlett setting the table, the RBI bats of Michael Weber (.302, 7 home runs, 40 RBIs), Matt Fanelli (.316, 5, 40) and Derek Jones (.300, 11, 40), usually the next three in the order, have come alive at just the right time.
"Everybody kinds of jumps on the bandwagon and I started swinging it pretty well and other guys did too at the same time," Bartlett said. "The guys that weren't picked it up and rolled with us."
• One more note. The All-Pac-10 academic team was released today with two Cougars – Patrick Clausen and Matt Fanelli – on the first team, one – Paris Shewey – on the second team and two – Matt Argyropoulos and Jay Ponciano – named honorable mention.
• That's it for now. We'll be back later. Until then ...