By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
AUSTIN, Texas — Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray didn’t feel like himself Friday night. His mechanics were slightly off and the decision to dye the whiskers on his chin red gnawed at him as well.
“It was an awful idea,” Gray said about the impromptu dye job.
The hard-throwing right-hander fought through that decision and everything else to lead the Sooners to a 2-1 victory over Texas on Friday.
Calling the victory coveted would be selling it short. The win snapped OU’s three-game losing streak in the Red River Rivalry that dated back to last season. It hadn’t won a series opener against Texas since 2002, and the last time it took the first game of series in Austin was in 1998.
OU’s players knew most of that going in. The difference Friday night was that the past didn’t matter. Gray was pitching. OU’s become comfortable playing razor-tight, low-scoring games when he’s on the mound.
“We always have confidence that Jon is going to come out and shut the other team down every game,” said first baseman Matt Oberste, whose 30-game hitting streak ended Friday. “All we have to do is play some good defense behind him and get some clutch hits here and there.”
The opener of the Red River Rivalry followed that script.
Oberste put the Sooners on the scoreboard with a sacrifice fly to score Craig Aikin in the top of the first inning. Catcher Anthony Hermelyn plated the go-ahead run with an RBI single to score Kolbey Carpenter in the top of the sixth inning.
It wasn’t a stellar offensive performance by the Sooners (26-5, 6-1 Big 12). They only had seven hits, and none of them went for extra bases.
It was just slightly more productive than Texas (16-12, 2-5), which had eight hits, but none resulted in runs. The only run Gray allowed came on a wild pitch that allowed Matt Gottsacker to score in the third inning.
Gray wasn’t as sharp as he’s been throughout the season. In his previous three starts, he threw 27 innings and registered 36 strike outs in those games.
“I felt kinda of funny the whole game. My mechanics were off and I had to do a bunch of things to tweak it and stay in there,” Gray said. “The whole game was a grind. I just had to find a way to win.”
He did that in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the bases loaded, he struck out Alex Silver and induced a groundout to second base from Brooks Marlow to get out of the jam.
“People keep asking me what makes him so special because he’s always had great stuff. What’s changed is his mental toughness,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said of Gray. “To win without your good stuff, you have to be mentally tough. He threw the ball better with bases loaded to those two hitters than he did the rest of the game.”
It didn’t hurt OU that its bullpen matched Gray’s effort.
Jake Fisher came on with runners at second and third and two outs in the seventh inning. Fisher fanned Erich Weiss, who went 2 for 4, to end the threat and then cruised through the eighth inning before turning the ball over to Jacob Evans for the ninth.
Evans, a freshman, mowed the Longhorns down in order to get his sixth save of the season.
Parker French (3-2) took the loss. He threw 51⁄3 solid innings, giving up five hits and two runs.
The difference in the game was the two-out, RBI single from Hermelyn in the sixth inning. A lot of OU’s losses to Texas over the previous 14 seasons had come down to hits like that one.
“We came in here and did everything we had to do to get a win on Friday night,” Hermelyn said. “This is a confidence builder.”
The Sooners will find out if that carries over when the teams square off in Game 2 at 2:30 p.m. today.
Follow me @john_shinn
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