The Crane Life
5/30/08 (and 5/31/08) - Michigan 7, Kentucky 5
5/31/08 - Michigan 3, Arizona 4
6/1/08 - Michigan 6, Kentucky 12 - eliminated
Surely a college first baseman has to be amongst the least likely athletes in all of sports to be struck down with injury. You're somewhere between 18 and 22, which means you can take a gunshot and be relatively chipper the next day. Your top speed is "saunter." Every once in a very long while you have to bend over or dive or something, but only just frequently enough to prevent wholesale muscle atrophy.
If you are bound and determined to get injured your options are limited to 1) having a runner plow into your arm after a poor throw, 2) getting drilled with a line drive, or 3) spontaneously combusting. If you consider poker a sport, sitting around a table riffling chips is probably less dangerous. It's hard to come up with anything else. Golfing, I guess, but there's always the chance your caddy goes insane and beats you with your five-iron.
So, yeah, Michigan's first home regional in over twenty years didn't go quite as planned. As per usual, I blame Angry Michigan Baseball All American Hating God, who rudely interrupted Zach Putnam's start against Kentucky with a thunderous barrage of rain, then had the audacity to actually break some part of Nate Recknagel's anatomy as he was standing on first base. Despite another cosmic middle finger, the difference between Michigan and these other teams was wafer thin until Maloney's weird decisions at the beginning of the Kentucky elimination game, about which more can be found in the bullets at post's end.
Tweak Recknagel's freak injury or any number of other fateful moments -- Adam Abraham's run-scoring error, Jason Christian swinging at ball four during the first at-bat, Chris Fetter leaving the Jeremy Bonderman impression on the shelf -- and Michigan could have gone into the ninth inning against Arizona with a slight lead, held it, and been the team to batter a wearied pitching staff in the late game Saturday.
Do they say "that's baseball"? If so, that's baseball. If they don't, good for them for avoiding easy cliches.
All that was mildly depressing and something of a letdown after the storybook finish of last year's regional. But it didn't feel like it walking out of the stadium after the Arizona game Saturday.
This is what happened in the ninth inning: the somewhat rowdy young folks in front of me stood up. Since this is Michigan, within nanoseconds a crabby voice grumbled "down in front," and when it was joined by several others the somewhat rowdy young folks begrudgingly sat down. Then Ryan LaMarre fended off a pitch and squeezed it through a gap in the infield for a one-out single. Fisher Stadium stood, and this time the somewhat rowdy young folks turned around and urged everyone to get to their feet, arms waving like storks with their wings on backwards.
I turned around just in time to see a ponderous elderly couple glance at each other in resignation. They arose, joints grinding ponderously, and it seemed like the birth of a new thing as they craned their necks to glimpse what they could.
- About those weird decisions: I know he has single-handedly turned the Michigan program into something worth paying attention to, but starting a guy with 15 IP all season is weird. Following him with another guy who had the third-highest ERA on the team is also weird, and following him with Canadian Mike Wilson, who was valiant last year but sported a 8.73 ERA going into the UK game is super weird. Travis Smith and Tyler Burgoon were fresh and had better stats both traditional and peripheral. OTOH, it's not like you can extrapolate anything useful statistically from 30 or 40 IP.
- Said group of mildly rowdy young folk included in their number two guys who periodically burst into little baseball chatter songs like "hey whaddya say one-nine, gotta be smart, be smart one-nine, hey whaddya say hey" and it kind of felt like a time warp every time they did that.
- Michigan returned every major contributor aside from one starting pitcher and the catcher for 2008; next year looks like a bloodbath by comparison. Seniors: VanBuskirk, Recknagel, Mahler. Draft-eligible juniors: Putnam (sandwich pick or second-rounder, likely gone), Christian (4th to 8th round, possibly gone), Abraham (?), Fetter (?). I know less than zero about how Michigan's recruiting. Does anyone out there want to fill me in? Send me an email.
- I wonder if Michigan's sustained success will spur Ohio State to beef up their program? They've scraped into the NCAA tournament of late by winning the Big Ten tournament from somewhere between third and sixth place but are basically Just Another Northern Team. Much like Notre Dame hockey hiring Jeff Jackson, anything that makes the Big Ten a more legit place to play is good by me.
- Holy crap is there a lot of ridiculous sacrifice bunting in college baseball. During the first Kentucky game Michigan had men on first and second with no outs and the guy with the highest BA on the team, Kevin Cislo, at the plate. He bunted. Later it became apparent that this was probably not a sacrifice attempt, as Cislo's fast as hell and in the Arizona game the corner infielders were about halfway to the plate during a Cislo at bat with no one on base. But still, man... the guy hits .350. Kentucky did it all the time, including consecutive bunts when down six runs!
I just don't get it, man. Baseball statheads are fervently against bunting in the majors, where a .300 batting average is pretty dang good. In aluminumbatland a .300 BA means you hit eighth. How can bunting be anything other than violent stupidity?
- Section Six has my back on this with its "Sac Bunt Irk Level":