Even though it is 400 feet straight away to the center-field wall at the Fish, baseball is still a game of inches. The Michigan baseball team (10-14 Big Ten, 16-28 overall) learned this lesson the hard way yesterday in its 9-5 loss to conference leader Ohio State (15-8, 28-15).
In the fifth inning, trailing 2-1, the Wolverines got their first taste of how precious a few inches can be. With two outs and two men on, Ohio State’s designated hitter Terry Pettorini stepped to the plate to face Jeff Trzos. Pettorini belted a ball into left field that appeared to be caught by a diving Brandon Roberts, who immediately raised his glove to signal he had caught the ball. But the umpire ruled that the ball bounced on the ground inches in front of Roberts and bounced into his glove.
“I felt like I had caught the ball – caught it clean just barely before it hit the ground,” Roberts said. “The umpire had the best view though. If it skipped, it skipped. There is nothing I can really do about that.”
The play proved to be even more important because it would have been the final out of the inning. Instead, the Buckeyes continued the offensive onslaught and scored four more runs in the fifth inning.
“I think it was very critical because four runs scored after that, and without those four runs, it is a 5-5 ballgame,” Roberts said.
Roberts was also involved in another play that showed just how important the smallest things can be in baseball. This time, it was a fraction of an inch, and Roberts did everything right. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Roberts stepped in to face Ohio State’s Chris Hanners, who had just been brought in to relieve starter Scott Lewis. The left-handed Roberts blasted a shot to deep right field. But Roberts hit the ball too squarely and did not get under it enough to drive it out of the park.
“He hit the ball right on the screws,” interim coach Chris Harrison said. “If he misses that ball a little bit and gets it up, it is a tie ball game.”
Roberts – whose six homeruns tie him for second on the team – knows what it is like to hit the long ball. Even though it resulted in an out, his shot in the eighth was one of his best hits all season.
“That’s one of the hardest balls I’ve hit all year,” Roberts said. “I hit it really hard and hit it on the nose, but I didn’t have enough air under it to get it out of the ballpark.”
If Roberts was a fraction of an inch lower on his swing he could have tied the game with a three run homer.
In the end, Michigan was not able to come back against the Buckeyes splitting the four-game series. Both of Michigan’s wins came in Saturday’s double header. Junior left-handed pitcher Rich Hill struckout 11 batters in the seven-inning first game of the doubleheader, en route to a 5-4 win. Sophomore Jim Brauer pitched his first career complete game and his first career shutout in the 1-0 win in the second game Saturday.
Despite the week’s record, Harrison was happy with his teams performance. Michigan was 3-3 over the course of the week after splitting midweek matchups with Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan.
“We have to look at this week and say, ‘We played some really good baseball,” Harrison said. “We look at this week and this is probably our best week all year.”