It was the top of the eighth inning in Hanover yesterday when the rains came. Losing 4-2, the Yale baseball team saw the whole season flash before its eyes. With the Eastern League race this tight, no contender can afford to lose to hapless Dartmouth.
Twenty minutes later the rains stopped. Reprieved, the Elis rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth to take a 5-4 lead. Yale skipper Joe Benanto handed the ball to his ace. Ron Darling--who is starting in the first game of this afternoon's doubleheader at Harvard--and told him to keep the lead. Yale won. 5-4.
Until last year's 21-11 season. Yale hadn't won 21 games in a year since captain George Bush led the Bulldogs to a 21-9 campaign in 1948. It hadn't had a winning record since 1963. Today, Harvard will be trying to sweep an 18-12-1 squad that has suffered but two Eastern League losses; a squad that was the pre-season championship pick of many EIBL coaches.
Ron Darling led last year's turnaround with the greatest season in Yale baseball history. His .386 batting average broke the school record. His 1.31 earned run average was fifth in the nation. Add an 11-2 record, 25 runs batted in and 33 runs scored in 32 games, and you have the finest college ballplayer in the region. Even Sports Illustrated, not known for its college baseball coverage, did a five-page feature on him last month.
Besides picking up the save in Hanover yesterday. Darling rapped out three hits to lift his batting average over .300. As a pitcher, he is 6-3, 2.22, with two brilliant victories in his last two starts. He has struck out 65, walked 27.
And it is as a pitcher that the big leagues want Ron Darling. Hitters of his caliber are not uncommon; Yale has six with higher battling averages. Pitchers of his caliber are rare.
"I think my future is in pitching." Darling said after his scoreless stint yesterday. "That's what they want me for, I guess, and since they'll be paying me, I'll do whatever they tell me."
The big leagues already know all there is to know about Ron Darling, who was born in Hawaii but lives in Massachusetts and packs 195 pounds on his 6ft., 2-in. frame. You can bet those numbers are written down on pads all around the country.
His fastball has been clocked hundreds of times, but you can bet there will be scouts and stopwatches behind the plate this afternoon. Everything is checked once, twice, three times about Ron Darling, who has the chance to be a great one.
"Maybe at the beginning of the season I felt some pressure." Darling said yesterday, "but it's all gone away. When I'm hitting. I love hitting. When I'm pitching, I love pitching."
All of which puts a good deal of pressure on Greg Brown, a young man with no worse credentials than a no-hitter in his last start. Brown will face Darling in today's opener, with Jim Curtin battling Joe Impagliazzo in the nightcap. Not only does Brown have to worry about matching Darling, who simply might not allow a run, but he also must face Darling the hitter--along with Rich Diana, Yale's hottest.
But Ron Darling will have to battle the pressure of being Ron Darling, and even though he says it no longer bothers him, living up to the reputation of the best pitcher in the East is a hard, hard thing to do every day.
"My teammates have been affected by the attention a little bit, because they're just not used to it," Darling says, "but right now all we want to do is beat Harvard."
They'll get their chance at 1 p.m.