OMAHA, Neb. — In order for Oregon State to advance in the College World Series, the Beavers don't need more arms, or better defense, or more base runners.
They need a masseuse. Or a shrink. Or a cup of chamomile tea. Heck, get all three and send them to the room of clean-up hitter Dylan Davis.
WHEN, WHERE: Today, 5 p.m. PDT, TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
"I just need to relax," Davis said. "I think I'm trying to do too much."
Davis has been the Beavers' most productive hitter throughout the season and one of their most clutch hitters in the regionals, but at the College World Series, he has been a mental pretzel, resulting in two dreadful games.
In a 5-4 loss to Mississippi State in the opener, Davis went 0-for-5 and stranded eight runners on base, including four in scoring position (he did knock one in with a ground out to second base).
Then in the Beavers' 11-4 victory over Louisville, he went 1-for-4, stranding five runners, including four in scoring position. His hit — a bases-loaded dribbler to the third baseman — was actually an out, but the umpire blew the call, thinking Davis beat the throw when replays showed he was out by a half-step. Two runs scored on the play.
That's 1-for-9 overall and 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, with a total of 13 runners stranded, eight of them in scoring position. The first-team All-Pac-12 player, who came to Omaha leading the Beavers in average (.343), RBIs (58) and total bases (126) has yet to hit a ball hard. Only one of his balls has left the infield — a short pop up with the bases loaded and nobody out against Louisville that was caught by the left fielder, who called off the shortstop.
"I don't really care, as long as we win," Davis said as polite and well-mannered as any kid could be. "I could go hitless as long as we keep winning."
But that's the point. The Beavers — who play Indiana tonight in a loser-out game — won't keep winning unless Davis shows up to the party.
As a team here in Omaha, the Beavers are hitting .301, but they are just 6-for-31 (.194) with runners in scoring position. They have left 10 runners on in each of their first two games — 13 of them in scoring position. Nobody has been in better position to do something about it than Davis.
"Don't get me wrong, I want to help my team as much as I can," Davis said. "You know, I'm a four-hitter for a reason, and I want to get back to doing what I was doing throughout the year."
One doesn't need a long memory to remember.
Davis hit timely home runs against Washington State to help the Beavers clinch the Pac-12 title, then at the Corvallis Regional, he hit a game-winning, two-run double in the bottom of the ninth to beat Texas-San Antonio. In a do-or-die game against Kansas State in the Corvallis Super Regional, he followed Michael Conforto's first-inning home run with a shot that went even farther.
But since the team has been in Omaha, Davis said he can feel himself tensing up. Thinking too much. Pressing.
He joked with a reporter that maybe he needs to find a masseuse because his parents — who have come from Redmond, Wash. — have tried everything else. They have taken him to nice dinners, and his dad has sent him text messages to try to snap him out of his funk.
"My dad will be joking around, sending me texts asking, 'What's wrong? You don't look like yourself. What are you, scared?'" Davis said. "But they notice it. They know me better than anyone, and they can see it in my body language, the way I move. They keep telling me to relax."
As it turns out, Davis might not need that massage. Or the shrink, or the tea. The cure for his ails might have been here all along: Pat Casey.
Puzzled with Davis' showing in Omaha, the Oregon State coach started studying video of Davis after the Beavers beat Louisville. In particular, Casey looked at video of when Davis was going well this season. He found a discrepancy in his swing: Davis in Omaha was letting his left elbow drift away from his body and toward the pitcher. As a result, his hands were too far out over the plate, and he was getting jammed by inside pitches.
At Tuesday's practice, Casey told Davis to focus on keeping his left elbow tucked into his body.
In batting practice, the ball popped off Davis' bat. He hit a towering home run to left-center field and laced several line drives to the gap in right center, reminiscent of his game-winning double in the regional.
"I'm getting better placement with my hands, and a better bat angle," Davis said. "It helps me stay on the ball longer. I think the next game will be pretty good for me. I'm pretty excited."
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but as Davis was finishing stroking the ball around the field, his bat ringing with every swing, the skies opened up and thunder clapped. Everybody took cover. Practice was cut short.
Casey apologized to the players who didn't get to take batting practice. But he knew Davis got his cuts. And he saw the results. He smiled.
"Sometimes you say one little thing to a guy and ..." Casey made his eyes wide as if a light bulb went off. "And they think, 'That's it! I'm cured.' It's like that old saying: Empty head, full bat. Full head, empty bat."
And with that, the Beavers bus pulled away, carrying a clean-up hitter with a mind at ease.