The race is so tight a five way tie is a real--if unlikely--possibility. But the Harvard baseball team has the power to change the complicated mess into a simple, sweet celebration: a win over Cornell this afternoon and a sweep of Army tomorrow will give the Crimson the Eastern League title.
The Big Red comes to town tied for first with Harvard at 8-3 and boasting the EIBL's finest statistics--the circuit's leading hitter (John DiGiovanni, .500 in league play) and three of the top six pitchers all winter in Ithaca, N.Y.
But it's not a jubilant bunch who will face the Crimson at 3 p.m. today. This team had the league won, coasting along with an 8-1 record, until a double loss at Navy last Saturday shocked it back into the pack.
Like Harvard, three wins this weekend will give Cornell the title, but a loss today will drop it back two notches into a fourth-place tie with Navy before its season-ending twin bill at Dartmouth tomorrow.
With solid pitching, robust hitting of late, and the homefield advantage this weekend, the future looked bright for the Harvard nine until captain and leading hitter Charlie Santos-Buch broke his hand in a Greater Boston League victory over Brandeis last Tuesday.
With Santos-Buch out, the Crimson will need good days at bat from RBI men like Mark Bingham and Brad Bauer, and more importantly, a good day with the glove from Danny Bowles, Dan Skaff, Billy Blood or whomever coach Alex Nahigian designates to take Santos-Buch's place in center field.
"We'll miss Charlie's leadership out there as well as his hitting and fielding," Nahigian said yesterday. "He's been an excellent leader all year, as well as our best outfielder."
By coaching first base, Santos-Buch will provide some extra inspiration for his mates, who will need all the help they can get against the formidable Cornell hurlers.
Sophomore ace Greg Myers (2-1, 1.04 in EIBL) is slated to start, but Big Red coach Ted Thoren can summon Jay Kebylarz (3-0, 1.64) and John Jameson (2-0, 1.93) from the bullpen at the first sign of trouble. All three have baffled Eastern League hitters during the campaign, with Myers hurling especially well; he has allowed only twelve hits and seven walks in 26 innings while striking out 25.
His opponent will be Harvard's Rob Alevizos, a senior who opened the season on the sidelines with arm trouble, advanced to the bullpen and is now, according to Nahigian, "our most consistent pitcher." Overall, Alevizos is 4-0, 1.35, while his EIBL stats are 3-0, 2.13.
Although he is the scheduled starter in Saturday's first game, senior Ron Steward (2-2, 3.80 overall) will be the first man out of the bullpen.
And to beat Cornell, Harvard will have to shut down some of the league's top hitters. Besides DiGiovanni, a left-handed hitting freshman, Cornell's lineup boasts sophomores Mark Utter (.381), and John DeMayo (.370) and last year's second-team All League first baseman, captain Gary Kaczor.
"I'm not going to pitch any different than I have been," Alevizos said last night. "I'll throw lots of fastballs and lots of sliders, and just go my hardest for nine innings. I'm not going to let up at all."
Win or lose today, the pennant race continues tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. when Army's Craig Jones, who believe it or not is even better than Myers, will face Harvard in the first of two.
"It's going to be a very difficult weekend," Stewart said yesterday. "If we don't win tomorrow, Saturday doesn't really matter that much. The key Saturday will be beating Jones," he added, "because once you beat their ace, they'll be down in the second game."
"I know the seniors feel this is the biggest weekend in four years," Santos-Buch remarked. "Only time will tell, but I think we're ready."
See you there.