Just twelve games into its 20-game run up the Ivy League standings, the Harvard baseball team already enjoys a comfortable view from the top.
On an unseasonably warm weekend in Cambridge, the Crimson (17-10, 10-2 Ivy) fended off Yale’s host of power pitchers, beating the Bulldogs (16-13, 6-6) in three of four games and setting up a weekend showdown with second-place Brown.
The Bears’ four-game sweep of defending division champion Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., gave the Crimson extra leverage in the Red Rolfe Division race. By sweeping aside Brown—which sits a game back of first place—next weekend, Harvard would clinch at least a tie for its first division crown since 2003.
The going has been remarkably smooth for a team that sorely missed its trademark power hitting in the early season. Stepping up against Yale, nonetheless, was Harvard captain Schuyler Mann, who broke out of a 2-for-12 skid by driving home 7 RBI during the weekend. His final two at-bats in Game 2 almost single-handedly won the game.
“Some of the hitters are coming out of [slumps] a little bit,” Harvard head coach Joe Walsh said, “and some of the other guys are picking other guys up.”
Also starring for the Crimson was an increasingly dominant front two in the pitching rotation. Junior Frank Herrmann followed up a complete-game one-hitter against Cornell on April 9 with a two-hit shutout on Saturday, and now has allowed just three hits and one run in his last 14 innings. Senior Mike Morgalis pitched eight strong innings on Saturday to keep Harvard in a game it eventually won.
The prelude to Harvard’s Brown road trip this weekend is the midweek Baseball Beanpot tournament, where the team will challenge its cross-town rivals. The Crimson plays UMass on Wednesday in Lowell, Mass. for a spot in the Thursday finale at Fenway Park.
HARVARD 12, YALE 5
It isn’t every day that you see umpires giving pitchers run support.
But in the sixth inning of the Crimson’s second game of Sunday’s doubleheader against Yale, umpiring was a crucial factor in the five-run half-inning that put Harvard ahead for good.
With two runners on, one man out, and the Crimson leading 6-5, Harvard head coach Joe Walsh called for freshman Matt Vance to bunt junior Morgan Brown home from third base. But Vance whiffed at an outside offering from Bulldog hurler Jon Hollis.
“We put on the squeeze, and they knew it was coming, so they pitched out,” Vance said. “I threw my bat out there, and the catcher came out of his crouch early and hit my bat.”
After the home plate umpire initially declared the failed suicide squeeze attempt to be a foul ball, Walsh jogged out of the dugout to argue the call. The two umpires then conversed for several minutes before overturning the initial ruling and sending Vance to first base on catcher’s interference by Yale backstop Eric Rasmussen.
The real twist, however, came when the umpires also rewarded Brown with a trip to the plate from third—technically, a violation of the rules.
A two-run double by senior Ian Wallace capped the inning’s scoring, giving the Crimson a 9-5 lead that it would not relinquish, thanks greatly to the efforts of junior Lance Salsgiver.
In addition to pitching three stellar innings of relief—allowing no hits, no runs, and only one walk while posting seven strikeouts for his first save of the season—Salsgiver made an astounding catch in right field on a blast from C.J. Orrico in the fourth inning.
Had he let that ball drop, Yale would have extended its 1-0 lead by at least two runs.
“If that ball falls, [Orrico is] on third, two runs come in,” Walsh said. “You get a game like this, that had so many little ins and outs, pitching changes, and four hours or so of play, that catch kept us in the ballgame.”
Junior Matt Brunnig (2-1) earned the win in two innings of relief.
YALE 7, HARVARD 4
So close, yet so far.
Brown’s right-field blast with two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth inning soared through the cloudless blue sky, cutting through the air with velocity and momentum. But both the ball and Harvard’s dreams of a comeback fell just short of the target.
Had Brown’s shot traveled a few feet further, the Crimson—who then trailed 6-4—would have taken the lead with an opportunity to secure the victory in the ensuing half-inning.
Instead, Harvard succumbed to the Bulldogs 7-4 in Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader, unable to recover from a first inning that saw Yale plate four runs against Crimson starter Jake Bruton.
“We were disappointed,” Walsh said. “Bing bang boom, and all of a sudden it’s 4-0. It kind of sets a tone like this isn’t our day.”
Harvard’s loss overshadowed an excellent outing by junior pitcher Javier Castellanos. After the Bulldogs chased Bruton with an RBI single by Marc Sawyer and a three-run home run Janco, Castellanos filled in on short notice.
“I didn’t get very many [warmup] pitches,” Castellanos said, “but I just wanted to get us [off the field] to get the guys in the dugout a chance to hit.”
And that he did. Castellanos allowed only three runs on three hits and three walks over six and a third innings, giving Harvard a chance to attempt to mount a comeback.
Despite getting on base early in the game, the Crimson did not score until the fourth inning, when Wilson smashed one of his three hits to right field to plate Salsgiver from second base to put Harvard on the board.
Although Castellanos allowed an RBI double to Jake Doyle in the top of the fifth to put Yale ahead 6-1, Harvard tallied three more runs in the bottom of the inning.
After reserve catcher Andrew Casey and Wallace singled to start off the inning, Brown reached third on a two-run error by Bulldog third baseman Matt Stone. Vance, the leadoff hitter, followed with an infield single to drive in Brown and cut Yale’s lead to two.
But no more runs scored as the heart of the Harvard order—Farkes, Salsgiver, and Klimkiewicz—failed to deliver a base hit.
“Some of the hitters are coming out of it a little bit and some of the other guys are picking other guys up,” Walsh said. “We’re still not putting it together with the hitting, the pitching and the defense.”
HARVARD 6, YALE 5
In the eighth inning of Saturday’s Game 2, Schuyler Mann obliterated a low fastball from Yale reliever Brett Rosenthal, sending a dramatic, game-tying grand slam into the bushes beyond left-centerfield.
With it went the last remnants of Mann’s prolonged, early-season slump.
“It’s been a struggle for him,” Morgalis, who started the game, said. “He’s been getting a lot of good at-bats, but hasn’t gotten a lot of results.”
It was only fitting, then, after right fielder Lance Salsgiver’s single drove in the prospective game-winning run at the end of the inning—which yielded Harvard a 5-4 eighth-inning edge—that Mann give himself the chance to bat again.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Mann frittered away the team’s one-run lead with a passed ball on a low changeup from closer Steffan Wilson.
And so in the bottom of the frame, with the score tied 5-5, Mann stepped up to the plate with freshman Taylor Meehan on first.
On a 1-0 pitch, Mann hammered a low fastball 410 feet to deep center and over the outfielder’s head for a walk-off RBI double, completing a “roller-coaster of emotions,” according to the captain. Teammates celebrated on the field.
“Schuyler crushed the ball,” Walsh said. “It would have been a fitting end had that ball left the yard. I still don’t know how it didn’t. I was talking to it the whole time.”
Wilson (1-0) earned the win in relief, his first career collegiate victory.
HARVARD 4, YALE 0
Junior Frank Herrmann bullied Yale with seven shutout innings of two hit ball, and in the process gave the Crimson an easy 4-0 victory in Game 1 on Saturday.
“You always want to beat Yale,” he said. “For me Yale and Princeton are the two teams I always gun for.”
Harvard scored all four of its runs in the bottom of the sixth off Yale starter Alex Smith, who fell to 3-2 for the season.
Junior Josh Klimkiewicz’s end-of-the-bat flare with one out broke the scoreless tie, and Wilson’s rocket double down the left field line brought the rest of the runners home.
Herrmann (4-1) tied for the team lead in wins, continuing his breakout season.
—Staff writer Alex McPhillips can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.