Tinted, at turns, by darkness and bright sunshine, O’Donnell Field served yesterday as the setting of both Harvard’s final home doubleheader against Dartmouth—a showdown fraught with Ivy title implications—and a sequence of unsettling visual tricks.
Umpires missed calls. Players booted balls. Ace pitchers looked average, and slumping hitters seemed superhuman.
Generous leads evaporated into thin air.
And so fans could be forgiven for blinking twice, early on in Game 2—a game featuring six lead changes, the last of which gave the Crimson (23-13, 14-4 Ivy) an 11-10 victory in its final at-bat.
Harvard had just scraped together a similar comeback triumph, a 9-8 win against the Big Green (12-19, 7-11) in Game 1.
Standing in at shortstop for Harvard was regular centerfielder Matt Vance. Zak Farkes, the Crimson shortstop, patrolled the turf in center.
Harvard coach Joe Walsh’s bizarre move—which pragmatically preserved Farkes’ ailing throwing arm while allowing the freshman Vance to return to the position at which he was recruited—immediately paid reverse dividends for the Crimson.
In the top of the ninth, Vance committed a devastating two-out error on a bouncing ground ball that allowed Big Green DH Jason Blydell to score from third. Dartmouth led, 10-9.
“[The ball] took a kind of downward spin hop at the last minute,” Vance said. “I thought I had it in my glove but it wasn’t there.”
In the Crimson’s final at-bat, Vance returned to the plate. A sacrifice fly by pinch-hitting sophomore Drew Casey had knotted the score at 10, and senior left fielder Ian Wallace waited on third with two outs.
Vance bounced the first offering he saw, ironically, to shortstop.
“Right after I hit that,” Vance remembered after the game, “I just took off as fast as I possibly could run.”
Erik Bell, the Dartmouth shortstop who had yet to commit an error all day, dropped the ball. Harvard scored.
“That,” Walsh said, “was justice.”
With the win, the Crimson kept division rival Brown (22-18, 14-6)—which entered the day at one game back in the Red Rolfe standings—at arm’s length and whittled its magic number down to one. Both teams swept their respective doubleheaders.
This afternoon, the Crimson and Big Green travel to Hanover for the teams’ final season showdown. A single Harvard win would clinch the Crimson’s first Ivy Championship Series berth since 2003.
“We set out to win our division and get to a regional,” said Farkes, who hit home runs in each end of the doubleheader. “So we’ve got to take care of business tomorrow.”
Cornell, which clinched the Gehrig Division with a win against Princeton, awaits the winner.
HARVARD 11, DARTMOUTH 10
Dartmouth enjoyed leads of 7-1, 9-8, and 10-9, but failed to distance itself from the hard-hitting Crimson in its Game 2 loss.
Harvard captain Schuyler Mann clubbed two home runs off of Big Green starter Stephen Perry, elevating his season total to eight. Farkes—whose first-inning opposite-field shot twisted beyond the bushes in right field—and junior first baseman Josh Klimkiewicz—who teed a low fastball over the centerfield wall—also added round-trippers.
“Mr. Longball came through,” Walsh said.
Nonetheless, Harvard faced a 10-9 deficit in its last at-bat after Vance’s eighth-inning error—which followed a questionable no-tag call by the home plate umpire, allowing Blydell to reach first after a strikeout—had given Dartmouth the lead.
Singles by freshman Steffan Wilson and Wallace set up one of the game’s more bizarre plays.
With runners on first and third, backup catcher Drew Casey entered the game to pinch-hit in the lineup’s eight-hole. He skied the first pitch he saw into right field’s deep foul territory.
Instead of letting a surefire, game-tying sacrifice fly drop for a strike, Dartmouth right fielder Chris Grimm made the difficult catch.
Wilson scored without a throw.
“I hit it all right,” Casey said. “I couldn’t believe he caught it.
“But if you want to catch it, catch it by all means,” he added.
One Brendan Byrne groundout later, Vance drove home the winning run on Bell’s error.
Senior starter Mike Morgalis gave up six earned runs in the first two innings, but settled down as Harvard came back. Sophomore Jason Brown pitched three solid innings of relief. Junior Lance Salsgiver (1-0), who entered in the eighth inning, blew the save but earned the win.
HARVARD 9, DARTMOUTH 8
Senior Rob Wheeler was the hero of Game1 as Harvard overcame two separate three-run deficits to win.
Junior Frank Herrmann—who entered the day as the Ivy League’s second-best pitcher in ERA—and Dartmouth ace Josh Faiola were both roughed up early.
Walsh remained incredulous that “Faiola against Herrmann was going to be that high-[scoring].”
“That was the way it was going today,” Walsh said.
Wheeler picked up his embattled ace. With five RBI, the senior known as “Doggie” by his teammates kept the Crimson within reach.
In the third inning, Wheeler turned on a high heater from Faiola, who last summer earned Cape Cod League co-MVP honors.
The ball sailed long and high over the left-field fence for a game-tying three-run homer.
“I guess [Faiola] thought he could get it in on me,” Wheeler said. “A lot of guys sometimes do, but I was ready that time. It felt awesome.”
Walsh wasn’t surprised.
“If you’re here early and see [batting practice], he puts on a show,” Walsh said. “The guy swings it.”
With Dartmouth leading 7-3 in the sixth, Harvard scored six runs in the bottom of the inning—highlighted by Farkes’ leadoff line-shot home run to left—to take the lead it wouldn’t give up.
Sophomore Jason Brown (2-1) got the win with a scoreless inning of relief. Wilson struck out three in the game’s final two innings to earn the save.
—Staff writer Alex McPhillips can be reached at email@example.com.