Day after Michigan baseball's epic 9th-inning rally, Michigan State salvages series split
Michigan State's Jake Boss didn't really know what to tell his team in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's epic eight-run, ninth-inning comeback by Michigan. He's been a baseball coach for a long, long time, and he's never seen anything like that, a rally for the ages that blew up Twitter, and threatened to blow up the morale of a lesser team.
Perhaps, then, it worked out that he started a freshman left-hander in Monday's rematch in Ann Arbor.
Nick Powers, a former Flushing standout, used a three-pitch arsenal that kept Michigan off-balance all day, went seven innings and allowed just four hits and two walks in leading Michigan State to the 3-0 victory at Ray Fisher Stadium. It snapped a 10-game losing streak for Michigan State in the series. Powers was a freshman in high school the last time the Spartans beat the Wolverines, May 18, 2017.
"It was gonna be a big, big game," Boss said while on the bus heading back to East Lansing on Monday night. "Maybe being a freshman helped him. Maybe he didn't quite understand the enormity of it.
"We talked about it before the game. Yesterday was over, and, you know, the test would be how we responded today, and I'm just really proud of our guys.
"That's a big character win for us."
Michigan State reliever Zach Iverson, who started the game at third base, came on to pitch in the ninth with two Michigan runners on and one out, and got Michigan's Ben Sems to hit into a game-ending double play.
Michigan State (6-6) scored twice in the third inning, when Michigan right-hander Blake Beers (0-1) lost his command, walking the first two hitters, then threw a wild pitch to move runners to second and third. Joe Stewart hit a sacrifice fly to right for the first run, and Zach Iverson grounded to first, scoring the second.
That was more than enough for Powers (1-1), who rarely touched 90 mph with his fastball, but mixed in a change-up and slurve that kept the Michigan hitters guessing.
The Wolverines (9-3), ranked 19th by Baseball America, did get their share of runners, but weren't ever able to get the big hit. Stewart, the center fielder, gunned down Christian Molfata at the plate for the final out of the fourth inning. Then, in the sixth, two Michigan runners reached with one out, but Powers got Molfata to hit into a double play. Then there was the double play to end it.
Michigan left five runners on, a day after it seemed like every resident of Washtenaw County scored in the ninth inning of Sunday's game. But in baseball, and so many sports, you "can't chew yesterday's breakfast," as Jim Leyland liked to say. The late, great Hank Aaron made a similar point when he visited with Michigan's baseball team in October 2016. Bakich remembers one of his players asking Aaron, who played 23 seasons and retired as the home-run king, stayed so consistently good for so long.
"He talked about his humility," Bakich said. "And he talked about how he just believed in the saying, 'What you did yesterday was only good for wrapping dead fish.
"We had to re-center, we had to play a game today. The game forces you to do that, when you play so many games — as cool as yesterday was, and we'll be talking about that ninth-inning rally for years and years and years to come."
Bailey Peterson hit a home run in the ninth inning, his first of the season. Trent Farquhar and Brent Kelley, each of whom has an on-base percentage over .500, each drew two walks, and scored in the third for the Spartans, who won in Ann Arbor for the first time since May 2016.
Griffin Mazur, the transfer from Cal-Irvine, had two more hits for Michigan, including a long double off the high wall in left field at Ray Fisher. Jimmy Obertop, the hero with his walk-off home run Sunday, had a double. After the rocky third, Beers settled in; he allowed two hits but four walks while striking out five in 5.2 innings.
Michigan returns to action next week at Penn State, while Michigan State will be home against Indiana.
The in-state rivals play again May 7-9 in East Lansing.
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