Nick Ratajczak hadn’t struck out since May 4th — and that’s an eternity in college baseball.
Truth be told, Ratajczak shouldn’t have been anywhere near second base, much less in the batter’s box, in the opening game of the NCAA Super Regional at Nashville.
Playing with a severely injured right shoulder, he had rebuffed any suggestions that he wasn’t game worthy. Somehow convincing Dan McDonnell he could play, or maybe McDonnell just couldn’t, wouldn’t say no.
Ratajczak would work Vandy pitcher Kevin Ziomek for 11 pitches, including six foul balls, before going down on strikes in the third inning, clearly in excruciating pain on his eighth or ninth swing, prompting McDonnell to have serious second thoughts, sending him to the dugout.
The senior second baseman had done his job, however, serving as the inspiration for his University of Louisville teammates for a 5-3 win in the first game against second-ranked Vanderbilt on the Commodores’ home field.
With that, Louisville would win its 50th game of the season, Nick Burdi would get his 16th save, Dace Kime his sixth win, Matt Helms his second run-scoring hit this season, and the Cardinals would be within one win of returning to Omaha again for a College World Series.
The odds of Ratajczak being in the lineup again Sunday for the 4 p.m. game against Vandy are remote. The pain of not playing has to be worse than any physical ailment for Nick who, no doubt, will be waiting for a look from McDonnell to get back out there.
Whether he plays or not again in this series, or even in a Cardinal uniform, Ratajczak may have set something special in motion.