It was like walking to the doorstep--heart pounding and skin tingling--on a first date, leaning over expectantly for that magic kiss, and receiving instead a hard, sudden slap to the face.
The Harvard baseball team, just 24 hours after taking us all to the brink of ecstasy with an exhilarating, eleventh-hour win in Friday's showdown with league leader Penn, brough us to the opposite extreme by losing a shocking, humiliating doubleheader to Columbia at Soldiers Field Saturday, 5-0 and 12-6.
The double-loss left the Crimson at 3-3 in the Eastern League, making a sweep of Harvard's nine remaining league contests necessary for any shot at the league crown Penn swept Dartmouth at Hanover Saturday to up its league-leading record to 7-1-1.
"It puts a lot of pressure on us," captain Larry Brown said after the twinbill. "We can't lose anymore."
The mauling started when Columbia ace Rolando Acosta allowed just one Crimson runner as far as second base in picking up his 20th career win, and it continued when the Lions pounced on three Harvard pitchers for 12 hits and 12 runs in the second game.
Acosta, a scraggly-bearded senior from the Dominican Republic via the Bronx, lived up to his billing as a master of control in the opener, walking none and nicking corners here and there with his unimpressive-looking fastball-slider repertoire.
In the process, he avenged Columbia's critical 3-1 loss to Harvard last year--a game in which a Lion fielding miscue and Crimson slugger Mike Stenhouse's ninth-inning triple put Harvard on top and knocked Columbia out of the league race.
This time around, Acosta held the All-American Stenhouse to 0-for-3, twice getting him on called third strikes that may or may not have kissed the outside corner. Said Stenhouse: "I thought they were outside." Said Acosta, grinning ear-to-ear: "They were good pitches. No doubt."
"He's a GOOD player," Acosta--who, incidentally, received his U.S. citizenship Thursday--continued. "He's the guy you have to get if you want to beat Harvard. Last year he beat me. This time I knew I had to get him if I was going to win."
"Last year I tried to work around him; but I threw a curveball in the dirt, and he bounced it off the fence," Acosta lamented. "Today I said he's gonna have to hit my best stuff. I went right at him, and he didn't hit me, so it was great."
Acosta had another reason to be pleased with the victory. "I really wanted this one," he said, "'cause Harvard just rejected me at their law school. Now I'll just have to go to Columbia."
While losing to Acosta was no disgrace, losing the second game certainly was. The Lions, who entered the doubleheader with a .242 team batting average, roughed up starter Jim Keyte for four runs in two-thirds of an inning and reliever Rob Alevizos for six more in the following three innings. The game--and the season, possibly--was over almost before it had started.
Down 8-2 after the second, 10-2 after the fourth and 12-2 after the top of the sixth, the Crimson simply could not muster the offense to stage a miracle comeback. Columbia's southpaw Tom Whelan, a lefthander with an 0-5 record, a 7.46 ERA and an array of pitches that weren't fat, but chronically obese, closed down the Crimson attack until a pitifully late rally in the bottom of the seventh pushed across three runs.
The Harvard batsmen managed 14 hits over the seven-inning game, but they all came from the same people (Stenhouse 3-for-4, DH Jim Peccerillo 3-for-4, Charlie Santos-Buch 2-for-4. More importantly, they came at random, isolated moments.
First baseman Mark Bingham's .400-plus bat fell silent for the first time all year, as he went 0-for-7 on the doubleheader. Even Bingham could not have saved the Crimson on this day, however. Columbia owned the day Saturday, and Harvard--a team that had danced with greatness the day before against Penn--simply fell flat (on its face).