OMAHA, Neb. – Nine innings. 100 pitches.
Most starting pitchers reach that number in five, maybe six innings. Seven or even eight, on a really good night.
Not Tommy Henry. And not in Omaha.
In the biggest game of the Michigan baseball team’s season, the junior left-hander pitched a complete game of three-hit baseball Monday, shutting out Florida State in a 2-0 victory for the Wolverines.
“We got the best pitching performance of Tommy Henry’s career,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We needed a strong performance, and he gave us something magical tonight. I think we’re all just in awe.”
Facing a Seminole lineup that has been especially dangerous with the long ball, to which Henry has been notably susceptible all season – the Seminoles have 81 on the season so far – pitching coach Chris Fetter helped come up with a plan to mix up Henry’s pitches and keep the ball low and around the plate all night.
The plan required nearly flawless execution. And that was exactly what Henry gave Michigan. It was a testament to the consistency and dedication that Henry has shown all season, all while battling bicep tendonitis in the second half of the season that saw him struggle with his consistency.
“The first thing I think about when I think of Tommy is his discipline and consistency and how truly consistent he is throughout the year,” catcher Joe Donovan said. “That's been Tommy the entire year. The discipline to keep the balls low in the zone, to not miss. If he does have a miss, the next pitch was – I think he shook me off after a hung breaking ball, and the next one was one of the dirtiest ones I've ever caught from him.
“That's him in a nutshell: keeping the ball low in the zone, pounding it, discipline, taking breaths, the whole nine yards on it, and that's been what we've seen from him this entire time. That's just Tommy Henry for you.”
For Henry, the execution and mindset Monday were routine. Coming off a dominant start in the Wolverines’ eventual 4-2 victory over No. 1 UCLA, Henry was confident in the plan, and more importantly, in his pitching.
“We just tried as a pitching staff to come out here and do what we've done all year – attack the strike zone and play the numbers,” Henry said. “A great hitter is going to get out seven out of ten times, so if you attack the strike zone, you force the issue, and let the defense work, and you saw that tonight.”
Henry also got plenty of help from his defense, which seemed to be exactly where the ball fell all night, as well as from sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin, who crushed the first pitch he saw in the top of the first inning for a towering home run that ensured Henry pitched the whole game with a lead.
Pitching from ahead changed his mindset completely.
“Pitching with a lead is much easier than pitching behind or in a tie game,” Henry said. “It gives you the freedom to just attack and to watch the defense work and let them make the plays, not have to do too much. So to be able to do that from the first time you step on the mound is fun.”