In tonight’s game, records don’t matter.
It doesn’t matter that No. 24 Ohio State leads the Big Ten standings and just notched its 20th win of the season. It doesn’t matter that Michigan just lost to a Mid-American Conference team for the first time since 2004. At 6:35 p.m., all bets are off.
Tonight, rivals Michigan and Ohio State square off for the first time this season under the lights at The Fish.
At first glance, the Buckeyes seem to have the momentum. But their most recent game against Central Michigan suggests that might not be the case. Although Ohio State came away with an 8-5 victory, it allowed the Chippewas, who fell behind 8-0, to make a comeback. The Buckeyes also committed five errors.
And for the Wolverines, this will be no ordinary series.
“There’s always something special about playing Ohio State – bragging rights and rivalry and all that,” senior co-captain Jeff Kunkel said.
In 2003 and 2004, the Wolverines visited Columbus and took three of four from the Buckeyes each time. Before those series, Ohio State had never lost a series in Bill Davis Stadium, which first opened in 1997.
“That was big for us and kind of renewed the rivalry on the baseball field,” Kunkel said. “We had read some things that they said there was no rivalry anymore, but there’s definitely a rivalry between us.”
According to Mgoblue.com, Friday night’s projected starter is freshman Zach Putnam. Putnam boasts a 3.46 ERA, the fourth-best on the team, as well as a low-90s fastball.
Michigan will have to play the same kind of tight, clean baseball behind Putnam as it did last weekend in Minnesota, when it took three of four games from the Golden Gophers.
“I think this past series against Minnesota was probably good practice for what Ohio State is going to bring, because they’re going to be tight games,” senior co-captain A. J. Scheidt said. “It’s going to come (down to) top defensive work and timely hitting and good pitching.”
Senior Craig Murray – who pitched Michigan to a 6-2 win over Northwestern before giving up five runs in his start against Minnesota – will be the team’s new closer. The bullpen as a whole will look to improve upon its performance against Toledo, in which the Rockets pushed across the winning runs in extra innings.
But the unexpected loss to Toledo only has the Wolverines more determined to come out of the weekend with a series victory.
“This (loss to Toledo) makes you really check yourself, defensively, offensively (and) pitching, all that stuff,” Scheidt said. “You realize anybody can beat you and nobody’s a man of steel.”
Nobody – including the Buckeyes.
The Wolverines hope to draw some extra intensity from a big crowd. Last season, Michigan played its first night game ever against Ohio State and attracted not only ESPN cameras, but 2,539 boisterous fans.
“It’s great to play in front of good crowds and have them cheering for you,” Kunkel said. “I expect it will probably be the biggest crowd of the year. Hopefully, people will come out, have a good time and come back for the other series. Classes are ending, so maybe people have got some free time to come on out and cheer for us.”
Those who come to support the Wolverines should be treated to some top-notch baseball, considering the intensity of the rivalry between the two teams.
“To be honest, my expectation is not to lose to Ohio State at all,” Scheidt said. “We go into every series wanting to take three of four, but we want to do real well against Ohio State.”