Outsized Expectations, Outsized Results For WVU’s Alek Manoah
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — At this point in the season, the only thing more outsized than Alek Manoah’s pitching performances might be the expectations that accompany him every time he goes to the mound.
The junior righthander has been mowing down opponents with regularity in April, putting up stat lines worthy of Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax in their primes. Over the last three games, his numbers are eye-popping: 26 innings, 41 strikeouts, no runs, no walks and just ten hits allowed — more than half of which have been of the infield variety. In the process, he has lowered his already excellent ERA of 2.44 by more than half a run to 1.81, and his WHIP to 0.80.
Expecting such showings every time Manoah gets the ball isn’t fair, but he has been so good that it’s hard not to. Even head coach Randy Mazey has found himself falling into that trap.
“Mine are probably a lot like yours,” he said with a bit of a wry grin when asked about his thoughts when Manoah opens each weekend series. “That’s three in a row that have been super-dominant like that. I was a bit worried about complacency, after the Texas Tech win, because they are so good and he was so excited to win that one. It shows a lot about him that he could come back and do it again. Some guys can do it once, and can’t repeat it, but he is repeating it. That’s super credit to him.”
That has been a point of focus for Manoah, who is emotional and excitable on the mound and during games, but measured in his approach to them. It’s a combination that wasn’t always present for him, but is now shown in his meticulous pre-game routine and his outlook moving from one contest to the next.
“I’m not trying to think about results,” he said. “When you start thinking about results and stats, you can get in trouble. I’m just trying to think one batter at a time, one pitch at a time and winning the battle.”
That, plus the ability to blaze fastballs at 95-plus miles per hour, break sliders off the table or get batters wildly ahead of offspeed offerings, have helped him rack up numbers that could put him in play for national honors. It has also helped him deal with the few situations recently when teams have gotten runners in scoring position.
In the eighth inning against Kansas on Saturday, the Jayhawks scratched out an infield single, then snaked a grounder down the third base line for a double that put runners on second and third with none out. With the score still knotted at 0-0, the feeling was that the first team to score was going to win, and the situation looked a bit grim.
Manoah, if it was possible, bore down even harder.
He got a strikeout, then made a play on a combacker to the mound to hang up the runner breaking for the plate, and when the runner on second also broke for third, WVU got the out when both Jayhawks wound up occupying the bag.
“I knew the game was on the line,” Manoah said. “I kind of had squeeze in the back of my mind. I knew I had to throw strikes over the plate. I got a big strikeout, and then the ground ball back to me. The moment I caught it I heard their coach say ‘Go, go, go’ and I looked up and he was going. I just threw it to Pudge (catcher Ivan Gonzalez) and let the athletes take care of the rest.
“Basically it came down to who got the last punch in. Every time I went out and had a good inning, (Kansas pitcher Ryan Cyr) went out and had a good inning. It was really competitive on both sides.”
Cyr wasn’t quite as overpowering as Manoah, but he kept WVU off the board by stranding six runners and scattering seven hits. The last one, though, was Marques Inman’s line shot to centerfield leading off the bottom of the ninth, which cleared the wall, gave WVU a 1-0 win and set off a massive celebration as the Mountaineers spilled out of the dugout to welcome Inman home, and also to congratulate Manoah on another lights-out performance.
“I am at a point right now where I am throwing the ball really well, and I think my teammates know that. I was just telling our guys push one across and I will take care of the rest,” Manoah said. “That was all we needed was that one. All the baseball we have been playing lately has been super exciting.”
Including, at the top of that list, the pitching performances he has been putting up.