Within about a five-minute span in the fifth inning, a toe-to-toe pitcher’s duel turned into another lopsided blowout for the No. 21 Michigan baseball team, which defeated Rutgers, 14-1, in Friday’s matchup.
After freshman second baseman Ako Thomas and sophomore third baseman Jake Bivens were pushed into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt, junior right fielder Carmen Benedetti stepped up to the plate in the fifth inning.
Before his at-bat, the Wolverines (10-5 Big Ten, 32-12 overall) were hitless with runners in scoring position, and their first four hitters were 0-for-7 at the plate. That all changed when Benedetti smashed a fastball to the right-center field fence to clear the bases, giving Michigan a 2-1 lead.
Junior left-hander Brett Adcock had kept Michigan in the game up until that point, striking out five of the first seven hitters he faced. He walked a batter to load the bases with one out in the third frame, but Rutgers (5-10, 23-23) couldn’t capitalize — Adcock struck out two Scarlet Knights to get out of the jam.
“You need your pitcher to make big pitches in a huge spot to prevent runs from scoring,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “And he’s done that for us all year.”
The only run that Rutgers managed was on a trick play with runners on first and third in the top of the fifth. The runner on first got into a rundown on purpose — hoping that it would allow the third-base runner to score. Though Bakich thought his defense executed the play well, they couldn’t nab the runner heading home, and it gave Rutgers a 1-0 lead.
“I think (that play) kick-started everybody,” Adcock said. “It was like ‘time to wake up, time to play the ball game.’”
They did just that in the bottom of the frame.
After Benedetti’s two-run double, junior catcher Harrison Wenson batted next and continued the Wolverines’ offensive blitz. He crushed the ball up the middle, and Benedetti chugged around third, drawing an on-target throw from centerfield to try and nail Benedetti at the plate. Benedetti’s headfirst dive came up about three feet short, but the ball bounced away from the catcher and Benedetti was able to army crawl towards the plate to score the run.
“(Benedetti) is a tone-setter,” Wenson said. “Guys like that, you feed off of their energy.”
After Wenson’s hit, Rutgers pitcher Howie Brey wasn’t given a break by the Wolverine offense — the high-energy onslaught continued, featuring back-to-back doubles by senior center fielder Cody Bruder and sophomore first baseman Drew Lugbauer, followed by a towering two-run homer from fifth-year senior Dominic Jamett.
Brey, who dominated the Michigan offense for the first four innings, leads the Big Ten in innings pitched, but couldn’t make it through a fifth inning that put Michigan up 7-1.
“We tried to see the ball deep, because (Brey) had a really quick delivery, so once we started to figure that out we put some more barrels on balls,” Wenson said.
Added Bakich: “It wasn’t about the hits, it was about the quality of (the players’) at-bats. They had seen the pitcher twice already, so they were able to drive the ball to the fence, and in (Jamett’s) case, over it.”
The Wolverines scored three in the sixth, and with two outs in the seventh, the top of the order continued to blast the Scarlet Knight pitching staff. Michigan’s No. 1, 2 and 3 hitters loaded the bases in the seventh, and Wenson did the rest. The clean-up hitter took advantage of a fastball low in the zone, crushing it over the left-center field wall — Michigan’s first grand slam since 2013.
Though the game started slow, the final stat line looked stacked for the Wolverine faithful — Adcock finished with 11 strikeouts in six innings pitched, while the offense racked up its third straight double-digit run performance.
Michigan will hope that the late-inning momentum swing can carry through to tomorrow night, when it faces Rutgers again in the second game of the weekend series.