Pitching, more pitching, an improving and air-tight defense plus just enough offense at the end delivers a three-game sweep on opening weekend.
COLUMBUS — John Havird used to throw 90. An injury robbed him of that ability. But with time and hard work he developed a new skill.
Now, he is one of those guys who hides a smile behind his glove as one hitter after another chases pitches in the dirt and out of the strike zone, and shuffles back to the dugout muttering and cursing and wondering what the blankety-blank just happened.
“Yeah,” Havird said, smiling and hiding it from no one, “that does feel pretty good. I used to love blowing it past someone, but this feels pretty good, too.”
Havird’s skills were on full display Sunday during Ohio State’s 2-1 win over Hofstra, concluding a series sweep and demonstrating—beyond any doubt—a capability to win with pitching, defense and a key hit here and there.
“The past two days were built for pitching and defense,” OSU coach Greg Beals said. “You know, not ideal good for hitting, cold, wind blowing in….Our pitching was good. John Havird was solid, rolled a bunch of ground balls. He had 10 ground ball outs.”
Beals also commended his bullpen—Seth Kinker, Michael Horejsei and Yianni Pavlopoulos—for another strong showing, two innings of throw-down relief: two hits, no runs, no walks – see you later – and freshman Brad Cherry for delivering a game-tying triple in the seventh, a shot to left center that cut through the wind like a .38.
Ronnie Dawson followed Cherry with a run-scoring single, and that was all Ohio State needed. The Buckeyes are now 11-6-1, winners in five of their last six games, and rounding into form just as the Big Ten season is about to begin. (Xavier comes to Bill Davis Stadium Tuesday night and Northwestern hits town for a three-game series Friday.)
As much as this was a “team” win bolstered by some strong defense—no errors, no walks, no hit batsmen and a Gold Glove putout by third baseman Nick Sergakis in the eighth that quelled a possible rally—Havird’s performance was instrumental. If body language is an indicator, the senior left hander had the Hofstra hitters baffled, befuddled and talking to themselves as well as plate umpire Justin Bertsche.
He struck out the first two hitters of the day and after that, there was a whole lot of flailing going on. He retired 15 of the first 16 he faced. The only hit he allowed in that span was a ground single to left by the nine-hole hitter, Tom Archer, and that came after two outs in the third.
Hofstra’s only run was a product of a bunt single, a sacrifice bunt and a two-out single to center by Steven Foster. He allowed one more hit after that, a ground-single to right and that was that.
“He threw great today,” said Cherry. “He’s thrown great all season. You know he is going to go out and compete…give it his best. We always count on ‘Hav’ to throw well.”
“John just does such a good job,” Beals said. “He can throw you a fastball and you don’t even like it because of the movement. His key is he is throwing middle-down and letting his ball work.
“He didn’t throw his change that much today because his fastball was so effective, and his change is one of his better pitches. He threw about 70 percent fastballs.”
Havird’s fastball tops-out at 86 mph. “Probably,” Beals said. But that’s 86 with maddening movement, a skill that has placed pitchers in the upper echelon of the game. With the world expecting 90-plus, here comes the dancer. Harvard actually has two change-ups, according to Beals. “He has the change-up and a change off the change,” he said. “Drive you crazy.”
“I just really learned to work with what I have,” Havird said, “and not try to overpower people. I realized that isn’t going to get it done any more. So, I stick to what I have; stick to my keys…
“I would love to be able to blow by a couple of guys now and then, but…I do love to see guys swing at my change-up in the dirt and miss.”
The very idea brought a broad smile to his face.
“Yeah, that’s nice,” he said.
The smile was the one he hides behind his glove when he is on is game, and it’s a one his teammates shared Sunday afternoon.
After Havird, Beals brought OSU’s cruel combination to the mound. After waiting on Havird all day, they were suddenly faced with Kinker, Horejsei and Pavlopoulos, all of whom throw hard, but individually pose different problems.
“You see a sinker-slider guy (Kinker), a power lefty with a good breaking ball (Horejsei) and then a closer coming in on the backside (Pavlopoulos),” Beals said.
“I hope we get to the point where opposing teams say, ‘We better get the lead before the seventh because it’s going to be pretty tough after that.”
NOTES: On a day when the hits weren’t plentiful (OSU had six), they went to work on the bases. The Buckeyes stole five bases. Troy Montgomery had two, Craig Nennig had two and Jalen Washington had one. Washington leads the team with six…Beals referred to Sergakis’ defensive gem in the eighth, as “the play of the game, a big, big play.” With a man on first and nobody out, Tom Archer put down a sac bunt attempt. Sergakis charged in from third, fielded the ball with one hand and fired to first, beating the runner by a thread…Ryan Feltner will start Tuesday night against Xavier.