BOSTON--In Monday night's American League game between New York and Toronto, a 3-2 Yankee win in 11 innings, the winning run scored when Jays' shortstop Tony Fernandez bobbled Derek Jeter's routine grounder with two outs in the 11th.
The miscue by the usually sure-handed Fernandez prompted Yankee radio announcer John Sterling to remark in his amiably pretentious baritone, "Anyone who thinks they can predict baseball is crazy."
Shift to Northeastern versus Harvard, Fenway Park, yesterday afternoon. Sterling's statement faces its harshest possible test, as a reporter has the unique opportunity to compare the prognostication talents of ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons and some yahoo in the stands behind him.
Gammons was one of the handful of people scattered throughout the Fenway stands yesterday, and one can only imagine that he came to see what four of New England's best baseball teams had to offer in the way of potential Major League talent. In the Harvard-Northeastern game, the obvious choices were Harvard centerfielder Brian Ralph and Northeastern first baseman Carlos Pena.
Ralph is the Crimson's answer to Jerry McCall of computer Hardball fame--he hits, he runs, he catches, and lately he's been doing it out of the leadoff spot. Ralph, the reigning Ivy Player of the Year, has been hailed by some as one of the best defensive centerfielders in collegiate baseball. Combine such an accolade with his .410 batting average and .692 slugging percentage--plus the team lead in home runs despite missing over half of Harvard's games with a broken hand--and you get the Crimson's best draft prospect in years.
Pena is Northeastern's Hank Contos, an athletic first baseman who hits for both power and average. Pena is a preseason All-American, and College Baseball New England projects him as a top-five pick in the June amateur draft.
Gammons may have come to see Pena and Ralph strut their stuff, but what he got was a clinic by the Harvard baseball team. Captain David Forst--known early in his career as a "good field, no hit" shortstop, continued his offensive emergence, going 4-for-4 and rocketing a couple of doubles off of Fenway's vaunted Green Monster.
Junior Brett Vankoski, the Crimson's platoon designated hitter, made the most of his two at-bats by tagging two singles and driving in three runs. And Quinn Schafer, who was making his first start of the season and had pitched all of six innings entering the Beanpot, pitched four and two-thirds innings of two-hit, shutout baseball.
Meanwhile Pena, probably the best player in either dugout, was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. And while Ralph went the way of his team, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a couple of RBI, he hit a weak grounder to second with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. The game was essentially over, but Gammons was conspicuously observing the at-bat from the third base stands, likely unbeknownst to Ralph.
ESPN pays Gammons the big bucks to find greatness before anyone else. And he found yesterday's greatness where one would least expect it.
The yahoo fared no better.
He showed up in the ninth inning clearly expecting a Northeastern win. It should have at least been competitive--these same two teams met a month ago in Florida, and Harvard needed a ninth-inning rally to sweat out a 9-8 victory. Indeed this Northeastern team is not much different from the one that reached the NCAA Regionals last season.
But 11-0 it was. And the yahoo was undaunted.
"Get that goose egg off the scoreboard," he yelled at the final Huskies batter in the ninth. "The wall ain't that far away."
When senior John Wells fanned the hitter on a nasty offspeed pitch to end the game, the yahoo stopped mid-sentence.
"Good pitch, kid," he said. "Way to take a little off the ball."
So Wells and the Harvard baseball team managed to surprise both our yahoo and Peter Gammons.
"Baseball is baseball," the yahoo said at the end of the game.
And it always will be. That's about the only safe prediction you can make.
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