Somewhere, Bill James and his spawn are flinching at the very idea of Ivy League baseball.
In the big leagues, the season is so long that the laws of probability almost ensure that skill is rewarded in the end. That’s the beauty of it.
In the Ivy League, the season is so short that the baseball gods almost ensure that skill is not enough. That’s the beauty of it.
You’ve got to be clutch.
Harvard’s lineup has guys that are capable of putting the ball in the trees every time they step to the plate. Batting practice is magical. They’ve got skills.
But that’s not why the team is a league-best 10-2, alone in first place, and two more good weekends away from an Ivy Championship Series berth.
Harvard’s not in first because it’s been good. Harvard’s in first because it’s been clutch.
That’s the beauty of it.
In Game 1, junior Frank Herrmann faced off against Bulldog starter Alec Smith in what quickly became a pitcher’s duel. Through the first five innings, Harvard and Yale combined for only four hits. But finally, in the sixth, the middle of the lineup got it done.
Consecutive singles from three guys who know all about Ivy stretch runs—Lance Salsgiver, Zak Farkes and Josh Klimkiewicz—followed by a two-RBI double from Steffan Wilson, a freshman who’s learning quickly, broke the game wide open.
“I knew we were going to score,” Herrmann said. “It was just a matter of when we’d get the runs.”
Harvard won, 4-0.
In Game 2, senior Mike Morgalis gutted through eight innings, before leaving with the Crimson trailing 4-0. But in the bottom of the frame, it started.
Brendan Byrne—who had entered the game the inning before—singled. Klimkiewicz was hit by a pitch, and Rob Wheeler walked. The slumping captain Sky Mann—bumped down to seventh in the lineup for both games that day—crushed an inside fastball over the trees in left center field to tie the game.
In the ninth, he hit a 415 ft. walk-off double to end it.
“We know that we’re going to score eventually.” Morgalis said. “I knew that as long as I kept it close, we’d have a shot at the end.”
Harvard won, 6-5.
Then on Sunday, after a tough loss to Yale ace Josh Sowers—arguably the league’s best pitcher—the Crimson clawed its way to a win in Game 4.
You want clutch?
How about Morgan Brown—the under-appreciated rock of the Crimson infield—dropping down a perfect squeeze bunt with Harvard trailing 5-4 in the sixth, good enough to not only tie the game but also to reach base safely with a single?
How about the next hitter, Byrne—a guy who got pinch hit for in his first at-bat last weekend—driving in the go-ahead run with a single of his own?
How about Ian Wallace—the senior shortstop-turned-left fielder who was bumped from the travel roster earlier in the season—bringing home two more runs with his second double and fourth hit of the day?
“I’ve always been better with fastball hitting,” Wallace said, his average up to .344. “And I love hard fastballs, because it doesn’t give you time to think of what you’re doing up there.”
With the lone—and gorgeous—exception of Mann’s heroics on Saturday, the Crimson hasn’t been winning Ivy games with its sluggers. But it’s been finding ways to win.
That’s exactly what Harvard couldn’t do last year, when a four-game swing through New Haven yielded only a single victory. With Trey Hendricks ’04 out with back spasms and the Bulldog staff sharp, the Crimson couldn’t find a way to win.
It’s found plenty of ways this season.
Now, with only two weekends remaining and Brown (16-13, 8-2 Ivy) a day of make-up games away from a first-place tie, Harvard’s going to have to find a few more.
The single season home run king, Farkes, is just starting to get healthy. Mann, who has been known to get warm with the weather, is just starting to find his swing. Those two combined for 25 homers last year.
“We’re still not putting it together with the hitting, the pitching and the defense,” Walsh said. “But we’re getting close.”
And just in time. The playoffs start this weekend in Providence.
—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at email@example.com.