It’s taken nearly 50 games, but finally…Friday’s win over Iowa defined the object of a program for the present, and a future befitting what it means to be a Buckeye.
Columbus – There were people from Cedar Rapids, Iowa in Bill Davis Stadium Friday night; there to see their Iowa Hawkeyes play for their Big Ten lives against the host Buckeyes.
Ironically, the Buckeyes were likewise playing for their own conference relevance, standing on the threshold of qualifying as one of the eight teams that will ultimately play in the Big Ten postseason tournament in three weeks.
“Beautiful place,” said the wife of the couple from Cedar Rapids, surveying the Buckeyes’ impressive ballpark. “It’s surprising that with a facility like this they’re not the same in baseball like they are in football.”
Meaning, of course, that the Buckeyes are always the team to beat at the giant horseshoe across the river come November. And as of Friday, May 6, 2016, they were just part of Big Ten pack in baseball, behind Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, etc., et. al.
Two different sports, of course. You can’t win baseball games by running “the spread”, or the “power sweep”. As Greg Beals defined after Friday’s 6-0 Buckeye win, there’s no one play you can run in baseball that leads to success, offensively or defensively. It’s a combination of things in baseball – pitching, defense, hitting, hitting with power, throwing, base running – and the confidence to do one or any of them at an appropriate time that wins you baseball games.
And after 46 games, finally, the Buckeyes put forth that effort, that display of attributes and timing on Friday that demonstrated without any question to any of the 919 that sat for the 2 hours and 18 minutes to watch them win 6-0…that this can be a pretty good baseball team.
All that’s at question now…do they have the consistency to join the show across the street? And will they have consistency for the next three weekends to prove that they can, indeed, take their place amidst the tradition of “winning” , and relevance, at Ohio State.
“Yeah, I’m hoping these guys have finally settled in,” Beals said. “This series with Iowa is a big series. We gotta’ win this weekend. But our players responded. They were ready to go tonight.”
As they have in the past, a game, a series, here and there. Always to come back to the reality against a Maryland, or Illinois, that they’re just a base hit, or a double play, away from the consistency of winning when winning counts most.
Friday they hit. The #9 man in the order, catcher Jalen Washington (from Twinsburg), went 3 for 4 with a run scored and 3 RBIs, continuing his own personal streak that’s followed him now the last two weekends at Illinois and Purdue.
They played defense. The Buckeyes turned slick double plays behind starting pitcher Tanner Tully (Fortville, Indiana), whose seven innings of work were not his best, but as Beals later described, “his most competitive of the year.”
And, they pitched, as they have pitched for the most part, battling through inexperience and uncertainty throughout the year, only to be joined by a hamstring injury to sophomore starter Adam Niemeyer for the past six weeks. Niemeyer’s status has been on-again, off-again. He’s off-again for his schedule start on Sunday, replaced by freshman Ryan Feltner, who’s taken his own personal opportunity by the horns. When he pitches they play well…and win.
A young bullpen against proved Friday that they were actually no concern for worry at all back in February when the Buckeyes took the field for the first time. Kyle Michalik (Brunswick, Oh) side-armed his way through two innings of sparkling wrap-up work behind Tully, aggressively challenging the Iowa hitters desperate to stage some kind of offensive threat after Tully’s departure.
“They (the Buckeyes) replaced one stone wall (Tully) with another (Michalik),” said the Iowa broadcast team on-air. “The Buckeyes have been as close to perfect as you could expect on this night.”
So it was, but so it must be today, tomorrow, and next weekend against Michigan, and the following week at Minnesota if Beals’ faith in this group for the season, and the future of the program, is to grow legs.
“Tonight was Ohio State baseball,” he said to a small group of writers afterwards, relaxed and comforted by the adage of loving it when a plan comes together. “This is how we’re capable of playing every day. My challenge after the game was…now let’s go out and do it again tomorrow, and Sunday. Let’s do it again and again.
“This is time of year when we need to play that well and be that dynamic – extra base hits, double plays. Doing special things, not just the routine.”
It buoyed hope for at least another twelve hours, til they play again on Saturday afternoon. There’s not much time, a week, to revel or prepare, as there is in football. You have to do it now…if you can.
The season’s at hand.
That’s the way it is this time of year!