Tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth inning of Saturday’s outing against Michigan State, outfielder Miles Lewis stepped up to the plate with teammates on second and third and one out.
The Spartans might not have known what was coming, but the Wolverines knew exactly what the situation called for.
As Michigan State’s Mitchell Tyranski was delivering the fourth pitch of Lewis’ at bat, Michigan’s runners were on the move. Junior outfielder Jonathan Engelmann sprinted home from third, while infielder Blake Nelson used his sizable lead off second to catapult himself towards third. Now it was up to Lewis.
Lewis laid down a bunt which the Spartan catcher, Nic Locayo, was forced to field. Engelmann snuck in behind Locayo to give the Wolverines their first lead of the game, 2-1. And yet, the play was still developing. Neglecting Nelson, who was now rounding third, Locayo threw Lewis out at first. By now, everyone was aware of Michigan’s trickery. To the dismay of Michigan State fans in attendance though, Nelson beat the throw home to increase the lead to two.
“(Michigan) coach (Erik) Bakich was going to give me the green light for the first strike,” Lewis said. “He dumped a curveball in there. It was a pretty good pitch so I didn’t want that one. Then once it got to the 2-1 count, that’s when he put on the double squeeze. (Engelmann) and Blake did a good job of getting good jumps and scoring on that, so yeah, it was a fun play. It’s a rare play. But yeah, very fun.”
The double suicide squeeze may be a rare occurrence for most teams, but the Wolverines have already used it successfully this season.
In the first game of Michigan’s series against Bowling Green — coincidentally the beginning of its seven-game win streak — the bottom of the fifth inning gave rise to circumstances similar to Saturday’s.
Tied 6-6 with one out and runners on second and third, freshman shortstop Jack Blomgren had also been given the green light from Bakich. Nelson — this time on third — and freshman outfielder Jordan Nwogu — on second — took off on the first pitch. Blomgren laid down the squeeze and, like Saturday, the Falcons’ catcher was forced to field it. Nelson slid into home comfortably, and the throw to first allowed Nwogu to give the Wolverines a two-run advantage.
“It’s just a designed play to score two runs,” Bakich said. “Most of the time, the defense collects the out at first base and, if they do, without checking the runner you have the chance to score two runs.”
The all-or-nothing move has been a small but important part of Michigan’s greater initiative to get on base and manufacture runs creatively. The team has stressed the importance of running the bases aggressively and using its speed to its advantage.
“It’s a play we’ve ran many times in the past six years,” Bakich said. “Don’t know if we had to pull it out last year with the offense that we had. We had a little bit more power in our offense, some older veteran players. With this year’s offense still finding our footing and finding the best consistency we can in the lineup, we’re still going to have to look for ways to create that offense.”
But now that they’ve employed the double suicide squeeze twice, the Wolverines may need to change up its offensive attack.
“We probably can’t use it ever again, because it’s gonna be on all the scouting reports here on out,” Bakich said with a wry smile.