When the Michigan baseball team took the field against the New York Mets for an exhibition in Port St. Lucie, Fla. on Sunday, it wanted to do more than serve as another opportunity to help the Mets get ready for the upcoming MLB season. Although they didn’t come away with the victory, the Wolverines stayed within striking distance of New York and even sent the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning before falling, 5-2.
“We even talked about whether we’re playing Fordham, the New York Mets or the New York School for the Blind, we’re going in there expecting to win,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said.
Junior outfielder Michael O’Neill continued his strong weekend, helping the Wolverines (2-4) jump out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first by scoring on a wild pitch after singling to center field. After winning two games earlier in the weekend in which it scored first, the early lead seemed to bode well for Michigan. However, the Mets quickly tied the game in their half of the inning when Michigan senior pitcher Ben Ballantine walked in a run.
Walking batters continued to be an issue for the Wolverines throughout the game, as Michigan pitchers gave New York seven free passes. Despite allowing 14 runners to reach base, the Wolverines controlled the damage, leaving nine Met runners on the basepaths.
“There were a lot of threats for some big innings from them,” Bakich said. “But we limited them to five single runs.”
Michigan’s older players, who’ve played the Mets twice in the past three seasons, helped the team stay competitive as they kept Bakich’s goal of winning in mind.
“I’ve played against them for three years now, so it’s just another game,” O’Neill said. “I think some of the freshmen were kind of in awe and treating it more like they were playing the Mets instead of, ‘Hey, let’s go win the game.’ ”
Though the Wolverines struggled to get runs across the plate, they outhit the Mets, 8-7, led by senior outfielder Patrick Biondi — the only Michigan hitter with a multi-hit game.
“I thought our position players strung together some quality at-bats,” Bakich said. “(They) competed well in the batter’s box against the best pitching we’ve faced by far out of the seven games we’ve played.”
Michigan scored its second run of the game in the third inning when freshman second baseman Jacob Cronenworth tripled to score Biondi, who doubled and then stole third. The run tied the game at two, but the Mets came back in their half of the inning to retake the lead. The Mets tacked on an insurance run in the fifth inning and another in the sixth.
“It was good to see us compete well against guys who were the best of the best collegiately,” Bakich said. “(Guys) who are either in the big leagues now or advancing their way through the minor leagues.”