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PRINCETON, NJ—He may have sailed his final warm-up pitch to the backstop upon entering the game, but Harvard outfielder-turned-reliever Lance Salsgiver’s command was really never in question as he made his college pitching debut yesterday.
Two innings before, the rookie’s throw to third baseman Josh Klimkiewicz from almost 200 feet away in right field went for a perfect strike. After that, the 60 feet and six inches from the pitching rubber to home plate was purely a matter of calibration. Salsgiver—whose cannon arm has forced Ivy League baserunners to run at their own risk all season long—didn’t take long to adjust for the shorter distance.
It was a good thing, too, because yesterday’s decisive game against Princeton was hardly time for experimentation. Strapped for pitching after the Tigers took a 5-2 lead off Crimson starter Mike Morgalis in the fourth inning, coach Joe Walsh sent senior Brian Lentz, originally Harvard’s designated hitter, out to right field and summoned in Salsgiver—yes, Salsgiver—who threw in high school but hadn’t fired a single pitch for Harvard all season before yesterday.
Tell that to Princeton. The Tigers ended up holding on for the win and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but not because of anything they managed off of Salsgiver.
Through 2.2 scoreless innings, Salsgiver did his best stalling act, biding time for a comeback that, unfortunately for Harvard, never came. He allowed just one hit in his stint—a leadoff chopper through the left side by Princeton’s Jon Miller off a 2-2 curve. It was easily one of lesser abuses Miller (5-for-11, 3 RBI) inflicted on Crimson pitching this weekend and it proved altogether harmless once Salsgiver baited Princeton’s next batter, Ryan Eldridge, into a 4-6-3 double-play.
“I felt like I owed it to the seniors on this team to try to come in and help out any way I could,” said Salsgiver, who also went 1-for-3 with a run scored despite nagging pain in his left wrist, which he sprained on Saturday sliding into third base.
Salsgiver made his pitches dance all over the place yesterday. Alternating between two fastballs, a curve and a sinker, Salsgiver featured plenty of movement—hardly the frozen ropes he’s used to uncorking from the outfield grass. Salsgiver threw all the harder from close range, too, clocking out at 91 mph according to one gun. He retired the side in order on seven pitches in the seventh and set down the first two batters of the eighth before being lifted for senior Ryan Tsujikawa.
Since overcoming shoulder trouble that kept him confined to his outfielder’s role for much of the season, it was just a matter of time until Salsgiver made his mound debut. After drawing what Walsh called “oohs and ahs” during a side session two weeks ago, Salsgiver was placed on call for last weekend’s do-or-die series with Dartmouth. Walsh even had him warming up in game four just in case Crimson closer Barry Wahlberg stumbled in securing the 14-10 victory over Dartmouth that clinched the divisional title.
“I was going to go with Salsgiver [if Wahlberg had trouble] and after that, I’d have been looking up into the stands for help,” Walsh said at the time.
As for yesterday, once Salsgiver entered, there was no need for audience participation. Come next season, he figures to be a prime part of the Crimson’s pitching plans as well.
“You always start to think of next year right away,” Walsh said yesterday. “I’ll probably do that as soon as I get on the bus.”
Whatever role he envisions for Salsgiver, at least now Walsh has a picture to put with the name. It could be—and will have to be—enough to fuel an offseason’s worth of anticipation.
—Staff writer Brian E. Fallon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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