Five runs in the sixth inning pushing Purdue past Ohio State, setting up another Sunday rubber match for momentum and league standing.
COLUMBUS — Purdue came at the Buckeyes with a little push back Saturday at Bill Davis Stadium, defeating Ohio State, 8-2.
The Buckeyes and Boilermakers are running nip-tuck in the Big Ten race and the ground that the Bucks gained Friday in a their 4-2 win—a gritty little showing—was relinquished in a contest that was essentially decided in one inning.
Purdue pushed across five runs on two hits in the sixth, when Ohio State’s pitching simply went south.
To that point it was a tight game, the Boilermakers leading, 3-2.
That all changed in the pivotal sixth, when Purdue helped itself and Ohio State gave them a little help to boot.
In addition to Purdue’s two hits in the fifth—a three-run double by Harry Shipley and a single by Ben Nisle, one of his three hits in the game—Ohio State pitchers fueled the inning with three walks and a hit batsman.
Starter Ryan Feltner bore the brunt of the damage, falling to 4-4 on the season. His successor, Kyle Michalik, usually highly efficient and effective, was anything but true to form.
At bottom, the Buckeyes stand 32-17 and 12-8 in the Big Ten entering Sunday’s deciding game in this three-game series, while Purdue is 30-17 and 14-5 in the conference.
“That sixth inning, it just got away from us,” said OSU Coach Greg Beals. “We score to make it 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth, then we come out and walk a guy to start the sixth…”
That was the beginning of the end in this one.
After issuing the leadoff walk, Feltner got the first out of the inning on a fly ball. Then came Nisle’s single. With runners at first and second, Purdue executed a double steal. Both runners were safe. Feltner issued a second walk and the bases were loaded.
Then, Feltner hit Milo Beam on a 1-and-2 pitch, and it’s 4-2 Purdue.
“So we go to Michalik, who’s been rock solid all season,” Beals said. “We’ve brought him in in those tough situations and, he walks a guy. That doesn’t happen very often.”
But this time it made it a 5-2 game and the bases were still loaded.
“Then,” Beals continued, “we (Michalik) hang(s) a slider and it’s a bases clearing double,” Beals said, “The ballgame just got away…”
Ohio State got a run in the second on Tyler Cowles sixth home run of the season and a run in the fifth on a couple of singles, a walk and a double-play ball. The Buckeyes have made a name for themselves this season mounting come-from-behind attacks and pulling wins out of the fire.
There was none of that Saturday. Purdue held the Bucks to a total of six hits. One hit came from the sixth through the ninth—a single by Dillon Dingler to start the sixth.
Only one other Buckeye reached base, Kobie Foppe who drew a two-out walk in the seventh.
Purdue used five pitchers. Starter Gareth Stroh lasted four innings and gave up both of Ohio State’s runs on five hits and two walks.
Those who followed—Trent Johnson, Dalton Parker, who picked up the win, and Matt Moore—kept a foot on the Buckeyes offense. Combined they allowed one hit and three walks.
The loss puts Ohio State in the familiar position of needing a win on Sunday—the “rubber game,” if you will—to claim a series.
It’s the sixth time this season they have split the first two games of a three-game series and the fifth time in Big Ten play. They have won four of those series in the conference and five overall.
After 49 games and many of them tight contests, it’s possible that players are showing some wear and tear, possibly some fatigue.
In Feltner’s last two appearances, he has not been wholly impressive. This past Wednesday against Campbell, he pitched the ninth inning.
He gave up five runs on two hits, one a grand slam. He walked two. Hit two and threw two wild pitches.
Could it be that he is tiring as the season wears down? After Friday night’s win, starting pitcher Connor Curlis admitted he was learning to pitch with some weariness, to count on his defenders and use a little guile to go along with his stuff.
It appeared Saturday that Feltner, a very gifted pitcher, was scuffling with himself, trying to determine just what he wanted to do.
Did he want to blow hitters away with that 90-plus fastball that draws scouts to each of his outings, or did he want to finesse a hitter here and there.
Beals conceded no worries about Feltner’s performance.
“Feltner was a pitch away from a statistical quality start,” Beals said. “He executes that 0-2 fastball in and strikes that guy out, leaves the bases loaded. He’s got six on the board and three runs (scored) and that’s a quality start.”
But it didn’t go that way, and at this point in the season, with the conference tournament just ahead, and the fact—regardless of whether it’s fair or not—that a season is judged by performance in the tournament, pitchers and players have to be smarter and play smarter.
Whether Feltner is making advances in that area is a very real question. There is no avoiding that.
“His efficiency needs to be better,” Beals said. “He tries to be perfect. That’s it. We’ve talked to him a number of times about trusting his stuff…To me, it’s how he handles the critical spots.”
The fact of the matter is that from this point on, starting with Sunday’s series finale with Purdue, most spots will be critical.
Next week, Ohio State goes to Michigan State for three games, and then it’s the Big Ten Tournament in Omaha. There’s no escaping those critical spots. How they are handled will define this season.