It was a cold and onerous task, but someone had to do it.
Frank Herrmann, the number-one Harvard starter, shrugged off the elements and made the moment his own.
It was a long time coming.
The 2003 Ivy Championship Series ended when the junior—then a raw, power-hitting freshman—lumbered to the batter’s box and struck out against Princeton star Thomas Pauly in the series’ final at-bat.
Two years and two days later, Herrmann—a 6’4, 220-pound beast with hands “like shovels,” as Harvard coach Joe Walsh once mused—toed the mound as Harvard’s ace.
On the line: the Ivy League championship against Cornell. In the opposing dugout: Pauly’s kid brother William, a catcher for theBig Red. In Herrmann’s thoughts: a baffling impression of discomfort.
“I didn’t feel good at all,” Herrmann said. “For the first four innings, I actually felt terrible.”
And so it was that Herrmann worked against the frigid breeze, an unusually frigid fastball, and two years’ worth of unfulfilled imaginings to record one of the most remarkable—and consequential—starts of his collegiate career: an eight-hit, 2-0 victory.
“He shut out the biggest game of the year,” said Schuyler Mann, Herrmann’s receiver. “He just came out and bulldogged it.”
“Makes it a little sweeter,” Herrmann said.
For Shawn Haviland, the freshman phenom whose snap-curveball already belonged somewhere beyond the Ivy League, victory always came easy—at least, when his hard breaking stuff had the good sense to find the strike zone.
Haviland took the mound in Game Two without the back-story, the history, and the heartbreak.
He took the mound clutching more than a little hope.
“I didn’t want to let the team down,” he said.
Game Two pitted the precocious rookie against Dan Gala, a four-year Big Red veteran whose ERA in seven starts (3.21) was the staff’s best.
And so when Haviland allowed the first two Cornell batters to reach base—on a single and a walk—and continued to miss high with a fastball that “didn’t have much pop,” as he said later, the youngster needed to find inspiration.
“[Herrmann] was out there and he was struggling worse than I was,” Haviland said. “He shut them out over nine innings. He has the experience to realize that when you don’t have your best stuff you’ve got to throw strikes, get ahead, and let our defense make the plays.”
A double play got Haviland out of the jam. Six and a third innings later, the freshman left the game after recording seven innings of two-hit ball, allowing no earned runs.
In a championship series dominated by quality pitching, Harvard’s front two—with senior Mike Morgalis waiting in the wings for the deciding third game—made the ICS their own. But the going was anything but easy.
“Last time, I had my stuff,” said Herrmann, who one-hit the Big Red on April 9 and twirled 16 brilliant innings against the Gehrig champions during the season. “Yesterday was a little bit colder, and my fastball wasn’t great.”
Nonetheless, Herrmann challenged the Cornell hitters and entered the fifth inning with a 2-0 lead. Guile—not power—helped him scatter the three hits he’d allowed despite failing to strike out a single batter.
“I hit a kid to lead off the fifth and that was when I got fired up,” Herrmann said of plunking catcher Matt Goodson with the first pitch. “I got mad at myself, and that kind of helped me out.”
Herrmann struck out the next two batters he faced, and five in the next three innings. But for a rough sixth, the junior cruised to the win behind an assortment of slow curveballs and an effective, hard slider.
“There was a big speed difference,” Mann said. “So they were guessing a lot.”
Haviland, for his part, benefited from a mechanical tip from Walsh—“I was pulling my front side out,” he said, “I was throwing more than pitching”—to recover from his bout with wildness.
“When I was out there I really had no idea what I was doing,” Haviland added.
It was a long, strange season for the Crimson, and sometimes things didn’t work out the way the team expected.
Sometimes—and never more than on Monday—the dividends were sweet.
—Staff writer Alex McPhillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.