Saved by the Bell: Baseball Must Look for Little Things

BOSTON—For a moment, only a moment, it looked like a season-saving resurrection.

But that wasn’t Trey Hendricks out there inexplicably trotting to the mound in the third inning against B.C. yesterday. It was senior reliever Brendan Reed, decked out in Hendricks’ No. 21 on a day when there were multiple uniform switches and several new faces—seniors on the JV baseball team—in the dugout.

It was a cruel mirage for confused radio announcers from both schools and the start of an unfortunate outing for Reed, who did not look like himself, both literally and figuratively. He also didn’t look much like Hendricks. Reed gave up two solo shots in the inning.

All of the confusion couldn’t mask the glaring reality, and that is this: Hendricks, the junior who is only about as important as oxygen to the Harvard baseball team, will undergo surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and miss six weeks. Hendricks will have a bone chip removed from his knee, and should be healthy for summer ball in Brewster of the Cape Cod League, set to start a week after NCAA Regionals would occur in early June.

Which of course lends itself to the million dollar question: Can the Crimson still get there?

Can Harvard, which already lost de facto ace Marc Hordon to a torn labrum early in the season, still win the Ivy League championship?

(Consider for a moment a team that still featured Hordon and Hendricks in the middle of the lineup, a team with the pitching depth to push either sophomore Mike Morgalis or freshman Matt Brunnig into a fifth starter’s role).

Can it be done?

Why not?

However badly hurt the team is, the Crimson has quietly put together its best stretch of hitting not only this season, but arguably in three years. Senior Kenon Ronz has peaked at just the right time, leading a pitching staff of Brunnig and Morgalis that, while only three-fourths of a rotation, is better than what most Ivy League teams can put together on any given weekend.

And then, there are the intangibles.

Yesterday, Harvard almost beat an Eagles team that had walloped them the previous week, 24-6.

But for freshman Lance Salgiver’s untimely bases loaded double play in the top of the ninth, the Crimson could have come all the way back from a five-run deficit the inning before.

This isn’t to say that there’s much of a moral victory in losing to B.C. by a little less. But there is something to be said for getting help from unexpected places.

The Crimson got an astonishing five quality innings from Rob Wheeler, who didn’t give up an earned run. Ordinarily a part-time DH for the Crimson, Wheeler went after a lineup of wall-to-wall .300 hitters with a simple curve and a fastball clocked at around 83 mph—hardly more than a sling and a pile of rocks. But Wheeler did nothing but get ahead of hitters early in the count and, had the ninth turned out differently, could have left Fenway with a win.

Wheeler’s pitching by itself doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the Red Rolfe Division standings, which the Crimson leads despite a 6-6 conference record. But it bodes well for a team that desperately needed quality innings so as not to overextend its relievers before what promises to be a busy weekend.

Freshman Mike Dukovich continued to impress at first, playing solid defense and singling to start the ninth, bringing around the red-hot top of the order. Second baseman Zak Farkes, who at times has looked less than comfortable in the field, showed signs by laying out for several well-hit ground balls he would have approached more tentatively earlier in the season. Farkes didn’t convert them all, but the effort was there, and for Farkes and an infield that has struggled as a whole all season long (and, in fairness, did again yesterday), that’s important.

They’re just little things, but little things make all the difference down the stretch. And if the little things keep happening, who knows?

We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Harvard’s miraculous 13-12 win over Brown, a game the Crimson had trailed by seven runs and needed to keep its season alive. That game and Fenway Park itself are reminders of the combined power of baseball and belief. And with the team playing solid baseball and coming together save for one very noticeable mirage, well, how much extra faith does it really take to think the season can still be saved?

—Staff writer Martin S. Bell can be reached at msbell@fas.harvard.edu.