INTERSTATE 90--"Our finest lad is down!" "You killed the best in Ithaka." Odyssey, XXII. 29-30
The curtain came down much too quickly on the Harvard baseball team this weekend. The Crimson's 3-1 loss at Cornell on Friday and omnipotent 7-0, 6-2 sweep of Army on Saturday proved one loss too many to catch first-place Navy (10-4) for the Eastern League baseball crown. The "finest lads" of the EIBL, who had groped for consistency worthy of their potential all season long, are now without a season, without a goal, without a bus ride until next year.
And if you had seen the way Harvard played against Army, Penn, or eventual champion Navy (who the Crimson destroyed, 8-2 and 3-1 on April 8) you would never have guessed that the year, or the era of Stenhouse, Bingham, and Brown, would end so swiftly, and so unrewarded.
Friday--They spell "Ithaka" with a "c" now, and if you're wondering where the "k" went, look at the stats of Cornell pitcher John Nurthen, who struck out 11 Harvard batters in Friday's 3-1 loss. Nurthen, the senior righthander who has now fanned 77 in only 69 innings, yielded only seven Harvard hits on the day, while mixing fastball, curveball, and dirtball (Nurthen mysteriously refused to pitch with a clean ball) for his complete game victory.
The pitching rematch of last year's game for the championship between Nurthen and Harvard's Larry Brown (which the Crimson took, 6-0) was neither the same in setting or stature. Cornell had been knocked out of the race by Navy the week before, and bucolic Ithaca was able to outshame even Hanover in producing the lowest class of spectator.
Brown, in his last appearance for the Crimson, pitched well enough to win, giving up eight hits and walking one. Unfortunately, Brown was tagged for half of those hits in the bottom half of the first inning, when Cornell took a 2-1 lead.
Brown was staked to a 1-0 margin in the first when Bobby Kelley hit Nurthen's first pitch to right for a single (extending his hitting streak to 13 games), and went to third when a Nurthen move to first took off for the alfalfa fields. Mike Stenhouse then singled Kelley home with the last Crimson run.
Dave Waters led off the Cornell first with a single and advanced to third on a picture hit-run play with Chico "I'm not obnoxious, just spirited" Bengochea. Both scored when Gary Kaczor and Marlin McPhail followed with singles.
Brown then twirled his best ball game in over a month. He retired the next thirteen men without a hit, and succumbed for only one more run the rest of the way when the top of the Cornell order parlayed two singles and a Bengochea sacrifice fly into the game's final tally.
Meanwhile, the Harvard bats were handcuffed by missed opportunities and summer camp umpiring. The classic empty-hander came in the top of the fifth. DH Chuck Marshall walked to lead off the inning, and Burke St. John kept him on first when his sacrifice attempt was popped up to first. Catcher Joe Wark then moved Marshall to third with a sharp single to left and put two runners in scoring position when he went to second on a wild pitch.
Kelley then came up. "We were trying the 'double squeeze' play, where the runner on second takes off on the wind-up and the runner on third when the pitcher starts to throw. Bobby (Kelley) is one of our best bunters, and being one run down it was a perfect situation for the play," coach Alex Nahigian said afterwards.
Nurthen served Kelley a perfect pitch to bunt, but the junior missed the ball completely and Marshall was nailed easily at home.
The game lasted only two hours and ten minutes, hardly a fair trade off for the hopes lodged in Thursday's eight-hour Odyssey to vengeful Ithaca.
Saturday--For those of us who laugh at John Wayne movies, West Point remains the living realization that not everybody feels the same way we do about The Duke or life. They have signs around the coldly beautiful campus that say "Jog--It's good for you and your country." And in the top of the sixth inning in the second game of the Harvard-Army doubleheader, the timeless game of baseball was held fast so everyone could salute the flag and listen to "Taps."
The squad was loose. "The dogs" were indeed still able to laugh at themselves and others: The afternoon proved one long Crimson punchline. The efficiency with which the batsmen mustered the Cadets, welcomed amidst its tardiness, was a stylish and pride-filled way to end the season.