<
>

espnW Softball Player Of The Week: Western Kentucky's Miranda Kramer

Miranda Kramer pitched four complete games, allowing one earned run in 33 2/3 innings and striking out 59. Graham Hays/espnW

As one noted ESPN analyst said in a former job, you play to win the game.

Whether or not you do, however, is not always an accurate measure of individual performance. Sometimes you can do more than anyone on the field in the pursuit of winning ... and still lose.

Western Kentucky pitcher Miranda Kramer was credited with two wins and charged with two losses this past week. She is also espnW's player of the week, the first person to earn that distinction twice.

The .500 record and the accolade are not incompatible, just reflections of different things.

Kramer's workload alone this past week was impressive. Western Kentucky has been more than a little unlucky with weather, enduring more cancellations than most teams through the season's first two and a half months, but that unwanted rest may have served the team's ace well. Still fresh as May nears, Kramer worked 33 2/3 innings in four starts between Wednesday and Sunday. She went the distance in all four appearances despite twice going extra innings.

But just showing up doesn't make you player of the week.

In all those innings, Kramer allowed just eight hits and six walks (a 0.42 WHIP) and one earned run (a 0.21 ERA). She struck out 59 batters, more than all but 11 pitchers in the 12-team Conference USA had struck out for the entire season when the week began.

To put it another way, it takes 193 strikeouts to rank among the top 30 in the nation this season. Kramer accumulated nearly a third of that, 31 percent, in five days.

"She doesn't miss over the plate, and that's why she's so effective," Western Kentucky coach Amy Tudor said earlier this season. "She very rarely throws the same pitch in the same spot. Her movement is deceptive, and she makes minor changes. Nothing is major, nothing is drastic. Everything is subtle. As a hitter, it's hard to make that adjustment. When she leaves the ball over the plate, she gets hurt. Anyone would. But I think her numbers speak for themselves."

Yes, they do.

She no-hit Kentucky on the road for the first seven innings Wednesday and struck out 18 batters, the most ever against the Wildcats. She broke a tie between Monica Abbott and Courtney Blades for the latter. You might have heard of two of the best pitchers in the game's history.

"I think that Kramer's an exceptional pitcher," Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said after the game. "I think she's one of the best in the country. I'd be hard pressed to find anyone better."

That Kentucky ace Kelsey Nunley pitched about as well to become that program's all-time wins leader and allowed the Wildcats their opportunity to win in the ninth isn't a demerit for Kramer.

Kramer then beat Charlotte with back-to-back complete games Friday and Saturday. She took the ball again Sunday and lost the finale only after striking out 18 more batters and allowing a single earned run in 11 innings. Western Kentucky was ultimately undone by an error in the final inning.

Some people point to intangibles to intertwine a pitcher's performance with the team's wins, saying there are pitchers who just have the will to win. If we're going to talk intangibles, isn't it a more impressive display of toughness to pitch brilliantly even when the score isn't in your favor?

At one point in the fourth inning of the second game against Charlotte, her third start in four days, Kramer found herself working on a perfect pitching line -- no hits, no walks, no runs -- and losing 1-0. Her response? She struck out the next batter on three pitches to end the inning. Although not a perfect game, she remained perfect the rest of the way for her second no-hitter of the season.

Other pitchers won more games last week. No player did more to help her team win.