The starting pitching put them behind the eightball, and once again the offense could not compensate. The Buckeyes lose their weekend with Nebraska…..
Columbus – Thank God for better days to come, eh? For optimism?
For something better than injuries to the pitching staff – gale force winds – the inconsistencies that comes with young talent learning to compete at higher level of baseball – the other unforseen things that have marked the first 42 games of the Ohio State Buckeyes 2017 season?
It struck again Sunday in the finale of this weekend’s series with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Coming off a hopeful split in Saturday’s double-header, the Buckeyes could not have started worse.
Righthand transfer Reece Calvert gave up a base hit to start the game, walked the next hitter, hit the next with a pitch, gave up a two-run double, threw a wild pitch…and by the time the dust had cleared they were own 3-0 and the game was – pardon the pun – gone with the wind!
Calvert came back for the second, but quickly was in trouble again with two outs and eventually was the pitcher of record when two more runs scored off reliever Seth Kinker.
Yes, the wind was horrific, blowing out to left field with gusts up to 30 miles per hour. And frankly, credit a little luck and Seth Kinker that the Huskers (hitting .270 as a team) didn’t get something up in the air and out of the park. Kinker was extraordinary in those conditions, taking over for Calvert in the second and pitching through the sixth, throwing 86 pitches and shutout baseball. He gave his team a chance, at least, to claw their way back from the 5-1 deficit .
For further illustration, the Huskers quickly loaded the bases in the top of the seventh against replacements Joe Stoll and Kyle Michalik. They scored on a hit batsman by Michalik (their fourth plunked hitter of the day). They scored two more on a two-run single by second baseman Jake Schleppenbach.
Thomas Waning came on with two outs to face Angelo Altavilla, struggled with the strike zone and walked him to load the bases again. DH Scott Schreiber picked on a 2-2 pitch and drove it into center, scoring two more. First baseman Ben Miller walked to load ’em again; but Waning finally caught third baseman Luke Roskam looking at strike three for the final out. The score swelled to 10-1, and somewhere Margaret Mitchell (she wrote Gone With The Wind) might have nodded…I told you so!
They added on again in the eighth on an RBI double by Schleppenbach…11-1.
The Buckeyes scored once in the bottom of the sixth on a single by Tre’ Gantt and an RBI triple by Brady Cherry, whose offensive metamorphosis continues to impress. He had three hits in the Saturday twin-bill and three singles and a triple in the Sunday finale.
But they exploded in the eighth off Husker reliever Nate Fisher on a leadoff double by second baseman Noah West and a following triple by Jalen Washington. Cherry followed with his third hit of the day to make it 11-3. Dominic Canzone got a knock, and Jacob Barnwell singled in two more to make it 11-5. That forced another pitching change for Chad Luensmann, who promptly walked pinch-hitter Andrew Fishel. With one out Shea Murray came to the plate with the bases loaded and lined a double to right center to make it 11-7. Six runs scored, and men at second and third!
Conner Pohl pinch hit for Noah West and struck out – and Washington came to the plate for the second time in the inning. He singled to make it 11-9. Tre’ Gantt finally lined out to left field to put an end to an 8 RUN inning, the most runs in an inning by the Buckeyes all year!
Reliever Austin Woodby retired Nebraska in order in the top of the eighth to set up a dramatic finish, and there was “the hope” of real drama. Outfielder/reliever Luis Alvarado came in to face Brady Cherry, who led off with his third single of the day…to center field. But Dominic Canzone lifted a fly ball to left…and Barnwell looked at a called third strike. Bo Coolen struck out swinging to dash the hope.
In reality, the horrible start killed them, that and the unforseen struggles of the bullpen in the Nebraska seventh – Joe Stoll and Kyle Michalik giving up the five runs after being so consistent for so long throughout the season.
“I guess if I could have known how Reece (Calvert) would have struggled I would have gone in a different direction,” said Greg Beals in the post-game interview room. “Credit Seth Kinker for coming in and doing what he did. Once again he was good, hitting with the breaking pitch and staying down in the zone. It’s not rocket science…if you can do that you’re going to be successful. And as banged up as we are with the starting pitching we have to find a way to get Seth in the game for us (meaning as a starter), because he’s the best we have right now. He was up over 80 pitches today, which gave him 110 for the weekend, and he just didn’t need to go farther.”
In the next breath, he gave credit to Nebraska starter Jake Meyers.
“He was very good,” added Beals. “Give him credit. 85 mile per hour fastball and good command of a very good changeup. He mixed things up and he had us off (rhythm) at the plate. You saw the difference when they went to their bullpen.”
And to the point about the eight-run eighth?
“It’s very encouraging because it showed the culture of this program. We’re down 11-1 and the Buckeyes showed no quit. The young talent continues to produce and that bodes well for the future and the next three weeks, as well as beyond. But we have to find a way to compete better than we did at the beginning of today’s game. It also shows the potential we have. Even when they went to their closer in the eighth we got a couple off him. We just have to have that sense of urgency throughout all twenty seven outs. We’re giving up too many outs at the plate offensively, and we gave up too many bases today with the walks and hit batsmen (5 hit batsmen).”
The loss, while disappointing, also highlighted the emergence of Brady Cherry from his two-year struggle for relevancy in the batting order. His four for five Sunday was his most consistent game to date as a Buckeye.
“It’s a matter of confidence, of course,” said Cherry. “I haven’t really changed anything mechanically. I’ve worked with Angle (Coach Matt Angle) and the more comfortable you can be the better things seem to get.
“Playing every day now is a big help,” Cherry adds. “I know myself better as a baseball player. I played three sports in high school but now I know I’m a baseball player. I have a better idea of what to expect from myself. Having fun, relaxing, and being able to compete is what it’s all about. It’s been frustrating, for sure, but you can’t quit. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights and thinking about what I need to do. You get very hard on yourself. But the key is just to not go there. You have to focus on knowing that you’re good enough to be here. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned since I’ve been here.”
It’s a team that’s talented, for sure. There’s no doubt when you watch the sophomoric contributions of Brady Cherry and Jacob Barnwell – when you watch the arrival and competitive growth of freshmen like Noah West, Dominic Canzone, and Conner Pohl.
But it’s also a team that’s on the fringe of being what Beals, Chris Holick, and Mike Stafford envisioned when they recruited that young talent.
“And that’s what I told the guys in the huddle after the game,” said Beals. “There’s such a fine line between winning and losing at this level, and we’re very close. We’ve got to find a way get there – running out ground balls, giving us tough at bats throughout the game, not just in the eighth inning today. Some of that’s maturity, of course, but it’s also the element of competitive toughness, and that’s something we’re going to continue to get better at.”
Timing, of course, is everything. Subtract the first inning, subtract the seventh, add Seth Kinker and the bottom of the eighth inning, and you can already see the future of this Buckeye baseball program.
Margaret Mitchell, by the way, died young, hit by a car while crossing the street – inexplicable. There are days when baseball feels exactly like that. Days you can’t explain.
Gone with the wind!