Odd as it may sound, Bajenaru's failure as a starter may be the biggest factor in the success of the Sooners' season.
After two mediocre February starts produced an 0-1 record, Bajenaru was returned to the bullpen and his once regular job in right field. Today, he's one of the nation's most dominant closers, not to mention one of OU's big bats, as the club prepares for a hopeful postseason run that begins Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament.
"It's pretty obvious how important Bajenaru is to us, on the mound and with the bat," Sooners coach Larry Cochell said. "But the other thing that may go unnoticed to a lot of people is his leadership.
"His fire and passion for the game, combined with his talents, is so hard to find. It's what every coach is begging for."
Bajenaru calls himself a "max- effort guy." Maybe that's why he didn't cut it as a starter pitcher, yet is so perfectly cut out to be a closer.
When Bajenaru takes the mound,
he knows one approach: Go fast
and hard. Pitch after pitch.
"I won't say he can't be a starter," OU pitching coach Ray Hayward said, "but his mentality is best suited as a closer.
"His whole makeup is 'Give me the ball, let's go get 'em. I'm going to throw the ball as hard as I can.' "
That intense makeup has carried Bajenaru to 18 saves in three months, breaking the single- season and career school save records previously owned by Bucky Buckles.
Bajenaru, who has 26 saves in two years at OU, owns a 2.44 ERA and has struck out 45 batters in 44 innings this season. He has secured some of the Sooners' biggest wins, saving games against Houston, Arizona State, Cal-State Fullerton and Texas, all ranked clubs. And he saved all three games in a sweep of Bedlam rival Oklahoma State.
"Early in the season, my goal was 12 saves," said Bajenaru, a senior right-hander from Chino Hills, Calif. "That was a pretty high goal for me. I really thought it would be tough to get to. Now. . ."
Now he's pushing East Carolina's Cory Scott for the Division I lead, and the Sooners are pushing for comeback club of the year, 12 months removed from a struggle to avoid a losing season, barely accomplished in a 30-29 finish.