Ohio State welcomed Michigan to Bill Davis with superb pitching, exquisite ‘small ball’, and enough power to make the Wolves think hard about what might yet be.
Columbus – By the start of things you might have gotten the impression that the Michigan Wolverines (23-10, 4-1 Big Ten) had taken the Ohio State Buckeyes (19-16, 3-4 Big Ten) lightly.
Their second hitter of the game, centerfielder Jesse Franklin, lined a one-out fastball from Buckeye starter Garrett Burhenn out of the ballpark to right center field, circled the bases, raised his helmet in the air as he approached home plate, and emphatically stomped on the plate for the game’s, and the series’, first run. Hold that thought.
And fast forward to the bottom of the fifth, when with two runners on, Buckeye designated hitter Brent Todys hit a majestic shot of his own over the left field fence for a three-run homer that extended the Buckeyes’ lead at that point to 8-1. As he approached home plate Todys, too, raised his helmet high…and emphatically stomped on the plate while he stared into the Michigan dugout. Check, and check mate.
It may or may not have set a tone for the weekend, but it did signal that Todys, Dom Canzone, Brady Cherry, Conner Pohl, Kobie Foppe and company would not be intimidated. Garrett Burhenn, for his part, did the rest.
The freshman righthander from Indianapolis scattered 5 hits over six innings, struck out six, and served notice that the Buckeyes would be taken seriously.
They started early, answering Franklin’s home run with a run in the bottom of the first on a double to left by Kobie Foppe and a two-out single by Conner Pohl to drive him in.
They struck again in the third with a leadoff triple by Canzone and a Foppe sac fly to right.
The Buckeyes landed a haymaker in the fourth, scoring three times on a single by Dingler, a single by Dezenzo, a sac bunt by Ridge Winand, a single by Nick Erwin, another single by Canzone, and another single by Foppe…Canzone being thrown out at third for the final out of the inning.
Three more in the fifth (Todys’s home run) chased Michigan starter Tommy Henry, while Burhenn came back out in the sixth and pitched his way out of a bases-loaded jam, retiring the final out of the inning on a long fly to left center that Ridge Winand collected as he crashed into the wall.
Canzone and Pohl rewarded that effort with another run in the bottom of the sixth, Canzone leading off with his third hit of the game, and two outs later Pohl drove in in from second with his second hit of the game, and his second RBI.
Michigan initiated more drama in the seventh, putting a pair of runners on with two out before Greg Beals replaced Burhenn with freshman reliever, Bayden Root. Root promptly walked the first hitter he faced (Franklin), then gave up a flaired single to right that scored a pair of runs and narrowed the deficit to 9-3.
Burhenn’s night, and line: 6.2 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs (earned), 7 strikeouts, and a pair of walks.
“I’m pretty pleased with what I was able to do, the outcome, and the way our guys played,” he said afterwards. “I was a little nervous going into the game, but you can’t be scared, and I wasn’t. I had the mistake in the first inning (the Franklin home run), but you can’t make too many mistakes against a team like that. I was able to settle in after that through the middle innings.”
They weren’t done, offensively. Already enjoying his best night of the year (3 for 4), Dom Canzone came up in the eighth against reliever Isaiah Page and took a fastball deep in the zone out over the left field wall, his fourth hit of the night, his third run scored, and a punctuation mark on the eventual win.
“This was the team I’ve been fighting for,” said Greg Beals later, in the post-game interview room. “We did a lot of things that I liked tonight – I’ve known that it’s in there and I think with the rivalry and the intensity the guys were just into the game and into competing. You saw tonight some guys not trying to do too much, just doing what they could with little things to make a difference…bunts, and two-out hits, and Ridge (Winand) with the catch he made against the center field wall. And Garrett Burhenn took the ball in his first rivalry game and was up for the challenge, wasn’t he?’’.”
But this is the 2019 Buckeyes, and there will for a time be the issue of holding your breath when the starter leaves…and the bullpen takes over. Except for the 7-run cushion, it was again. Bayden Root’s night was effective, but spotty. His two innings included three hits, two runs (earned), two strikeouts, but four walks, including two in the ninth that loaded the bases.
Beals summoned Andrew Magno with two outs and two runs in, and low and behold…he walked the first hitter he faced before striking out right fielder Jordan Brewer, looking, for the final out.
There were plenty of positives afterwards, as Kobie Foppe talked about his night…2 for 4 and a pair of RBI’s.
“It was a good night,” said Foppe. “It’s been a long year. And I don’t want to jinx things, but I think it’s finally clicking. I just have to keep swinging at good pitches. But this was a good game for us, getting to their starter. We’d heard a lot about him and getting that first win was huge for confidence. Now we’ve got to get two more.”
It’s alumni weekend and pre-game a couple of former captains, Jonathan Sweet and former Wheelersburg High School coach Mike Estep, came in the locker room to amp things up.
“It was all good,” smiled Dom Canzone. “They got our minds right and we played the best game of the year. We need to continue to build on that because that’s Buckeye baseball. A reminder that this is our house and the importance of winning, sweeping, and continuing to put good at bats together. Top to bottom, that’s what we were able to do tonight.”
Final line: Ohio State (19-16) won it with 10 runs on 13 hits while playing error-free baseball. “Clean” baseball, as Greg Beals prefers to call it. They left five on base. Garrett Burhenn improved his record to 5-1.
Michigan lost it with 5 runs on 9 hits and committed 2 errors. The Wolverines squandered 11 men on base and starter Tommy Henry saw his record drop a bit, to 6-3.
It was the best game they’ve played all year, and Beals, who’s now won 7 in a row against Michigan at Bill Davis, would love to see a carryover into Saturday’s 2 pm double-header. Due to concerns about Sunday’s forecast of rain, they’re playing while they can.
“This was the biggest game that we had to play today,” smiled Beals, emphasizing one at a time. “You know I’m not going to get too carried away with one game, but we had a big game today and we took care of it. Tonight you saw some big-time players like Dom Canzone play big-time baseball. Now we have to come back tomorrow and hopefully our guys answer the bell again.”
There were fireworks afterwards, symbolic of the game itself…from Jesse Franklin stomping on home plate, and Brent Todys answering…to the obvious passion displayed by the Buckeyes to answer such an obvious challenge. Dom Canzone is now 10 for his last 15 at bats (.667), blistering hot!
The Ohio State players, to a man, noticed Franklin’s first inning display, and filed it away…as if they needed extra motivation.
“It’s a thing called karma,” said Beals before he left the interview room. “You take care of the game and do what you’re supposed to do. But the thing that excites me is that a week ago we were broken. But our guys have responded. We’ve had to dig deep, we’ve had some adversity, and that’s when your character shows up. I think you saw the character of our ballclub tonight.”
Canzone led the way with his 4 for 5 night at the plate, but he had plenty of company. Foppe had his 2 for 4 night. Conner Pohl went 2 for 3 with a pair of RBIs. Zach Dezenzo continues to mature at the plate, going 2 for 4. And Brent Todys was 1 for 4, but drove in three runs with his home run in the fifth.
Canzone’s average jumped from .334 to .348 with his four-hit night.
Kobie Foppe’s resurgence could not come at a better time as Matt Carpenter continues to nurse a sore hamstring that he injured during the Rutgers series two weeks ago.
If there was a post-game concern of any kind, it was the fact of the bullpen giving up five walks in 2.1 innings – five free bases during that span of 7 outs.
The series continues on Saturday with lefthanders Seth Lonsway (4-3) and Griffan Smith (3-1) going to the mound for Ohio State.