EVANSTON — You didn’t even have to watch the play.
Michigan coach Rich Maloney’s commentary from the third base coach’s box in the bottom of the third inning in Friday’s series opener against Northwestern was enough.
With runners on second and third and no outs in the 0-0 ball game, freshman catcher Cole Martin dropped a bunt right to the pitcher, Luke Farrell. Redshirt sophomore third baseman Kevin Krantz inexplicably took off from third base and sprinted for home and was easily thrown out.
Maloney clutched either side of his helmet and dropped like he was shot into a crouching position and stared at the ground in disbelief. He had called a safety squeeze — where a runner waits to ensure he can score — instead of a suicide squeeze and vented by pulling Krantz out of the game.
That play would be only the beginning of Michigan’s ineffectiveness in the series.
Michigan scored a run in the inning, but that was the only run for the Wolverines in their 7-1 loss on Friday. They dropped Saturday’s game, 11-6.
Friday’s decisive blow was dealt by Northwestern first baseman Paul Snieder, who smashed a grand slam off of redshirt sophomore reliever Tyler Mills’ first pitch in relief of junior Brandon Sinnery. The four runs put the game out of reach and essentially knocked Michigan out of postseason contention.
On Saturday, Michigan (6-14 Big Ten, 15-35 overall) held a 1-0 lead — as it has numerous times this season. But in keeping with tradition, it let go of it quickly, as the Wildcats pounded redshirt sophomore starter Matt Broder for four runs in the second inning. Northwestern extended the lead to 11-3 before Michigan’s bats woke up in the ninth inning. But after scoring three runs in the frame, the Wolverines’ rebellion was quelled.
Snieder was a juggernaut for the Wildcats (9-11, 19-27) this weekend, going 6-for-8 with five RBI. He also threw 3.2 innings of relief on Saturday — enough to earn the save.
Though Michigan was able to get something going in the ninth inning on Saturday, much of the weekend was characterized by an inability to hit. Northwestern recorded 20 strikeouts in the two games and held the Wolverines to a .231 average.
And the numbers show that Northwestern’s offense was about twice as good as its opponent. Snieder and the Wildcats struck out just 10 times while hitting at a .435 clip on the weekend.
Maloney’s 15 wins this year halve his previous low in a season, and he, too, went down swinging at Rocky Miller Park.
In the eighth inning of Friday’s game, Maloney was ejected following a conference at the mound when the home-plate umpire approached the group of Wolverines to break up the meeting. Maloney had just barely started to convey his thoughts to the umpire before he was given the heave-ho.
The ejection was uncharacteristic of the normally even-tempered seventh-year coach.
The teams ahead of last-place Michigan kept pace this weekend and the Wolverines’ last three games will function only to try to spoil Penn State’s postseason chances.
With the final game of the series canceled due to consistent rains on Sunday, Michigan’s final road trip of the season was cut short. The team will host Maloney’s alma mater — Western Michigan — on Tuesday before getting a shot at the Nittany Lions next weekend.