The Michigan baseball team’s miraculous postseason run is over — and it ended on a sour note.
After a controversial call at second base kept the eighth inning alive, Louisville reclaimed the lead and soon after won the game.
With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, junior right-hander Cameron Weston stood on the mound, closely guarding a two run lead. On the weekend, Weston tossed seven scoreless innings in relief, a true clutch factor for the Wolverines.
But the batter at the plate — Cardinals’ designated hitter Jack Payton — smacked the ball into left field and sprinted around the bases. As he approached second base, the cutoff throw from senior shortstop Riley Bertram found the glove of junior second baseman Ted Burton and he swiped at Payton as he slid into the bag head first.
The umpire called him safe on the bang-bang play, and all of Jim Patterson Stadium waited with bated breath as the long review process played out.
The call stood.
With this new life, the Cardinals rallied. And after seeing their momentum hit a brick wall, a deflated Michigan could only watch. The next Louisville batter brought Payton and another baserunner home to tie the game. Then a game-winning two-run homer gave Louisville the lead.
“Had he called him out and Louisville reviewed it the call probably would have stood,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “He called him safe … the rule is very clear it has to be conclusive evidence to over turn.”
However what the replay showed was clear: The runner was out.
While I can understand close calls being hard to overturn, the video was a clear case.
Burton’s glove could be clearly seen bouncing off of Payton’s hand, catching Payton’s fingers and tipping them up. His fingers were clearly not on the bag as the glove made contact.
That’s an out. The inning should have been over.
That type of blown call is disruptive at the best of times, but in the postseason it can be — and in this instance almost certainly was — season altering.
The Louisville Regional was a tale of momentum. In the first two days, the Wolverines rode their Big Ten Championship energy to upset wins over Oregon and the Cardinals. And on Sunday, Louisville capitalized on its own win over the Ducks with a 20-1 evisceration of Michigan — forcing Monday’s tiebreaker.
And coming out of a weather delay in Monday’s game, the Wolverines seized their own momentum. They overcame a four-run deficit with a six-run stretch in the fifth and sixth innings
“We regrouped during that break,” junior catcher Jimmy Obertop said. “We knew we would be able to come back.”
Winning teams create and capitalize on momentum shifts. It is how Michigan managed to make it as far as it did into the postseason.
Louisville certainly capitalized off of the eighth-inning momentum shift well, and undoubtedly earned the win. However, it did not reclaim the momentum on its own and that soured the game’s result.
If the call had been properly overturned then the Wolverines would have entered the ninth inning up two runs and with momentum on their side. Whether or not the Cardinals could have still found an energy shift on their own will never be answered.
“It sucks the way it ended,” Bakich said. “But congratulations to Louisville, they’ve got a great team.”
Michigan had a tumultuous season. It struggled to find its identity and live up to its potential, but it hit its stride and found a little magic in the postseason.
Now, that run’s dissonant final note — kickstarted in part by a poor review call — makes that magic a little harder to appreciate.