NORTHBOROUGH, Mass.—Betcha Mike Gambino wishes he could take it back.
It’s a hard call to make with the game on the line. Runners at first and second, one man away, bottom of the ninth. The six and seven men in the order due up. Each of these two guys—Donovan Casey and Logan Hoggarth, respectively—don’t have a lot of pop, combining for only two extra-base hits this season. But they’re atop the leaderboards for the Boston College baseball team in on-base percentage.
Gambino, the Eagles’ head coach, wanted to beat the Wolfpack right in that spot. But his gamble may have cost BC the game.
The Eagles (6-13, 1-7 ACC) had plenty of chances to beat North Carolina State (12-9, 3-5 ACC) on Saturday afternoon. Not once past the third inning did they capitalize, leading to a 15-inning 9-4 loss.
Up to that point in the bottom of the final regulation frame, the Eagles had left 11 men on base. Twice, they left the bases loaded. In the fifth, BC juiced the bags up with nobody out and the heart of the order—Michael Strem, Chris Shaw, and Joe Cronin—ready to blow the game open. But situational hitting plagued the Eagles, as it has all season. Strem grounded it back to the pitcher to force Johnny Adams out at home, before Shaw and Cronin both were set down at the plate by NC State reliever Tommy DeJuneas.
But then came that ninth inning. Gambino, having already seen his boys struggle with their opportunities, optioned to take a serious risk. He sat down Shaw, his best and most dangerous hitter, for a pinch runner: Geoffrey Murphy. He believed that, with Casey and Hoggarth directly following, Murphy would have a better chance to score on a single anywhere in the outfield—justifiably so, considering the Eagles’ slugger Shaw doesn’t run well.
The problem comes when the batters don’t deliver. Immediately after, Casey grounded to second, allowing the winning run—now Murphy instead of Shaw—to advance to third. Unless that man out there has the rifle arm of Jeff Francoeur, a runner can jog backwards to home from third on any hit to the outfield.
Gambino conceded that he could’ve waited to pull that trigger until there were two outs. If the runners don’t move up depending on what Casey does, it makes sense to want the faster runner out there at second with Hoggarth at the plate.
If Casey can move the runners up—like he did—then replacing Shaw for Murphy is a wash. Shaw may not be fast, but he can score from third on everything except, most likely, a wild pitch/passed ball. Additionally, it takes BC’s most lethal hitter out of the lineup in case the Eagles’ hitters cannot deliver—which they didn’t. Hoggarth walked, loading the bases for catcher Nick Sciortino, who lined out to right.
The Eagles’ head coach stood by his decision to remove Shaw, noting that it’s impossible to criticize decisions in hindsight of what eventually happened in extras. “If his spot comes up later in the game, you know, he doesn’t hit in that situation,” Gambino said. “They would have pitched it differently.”
Given when Shaw’s spot in the order arrived, NC State probably couldn’t have pitched it differently. The following inning, the Wolfpack had nowhere to turn, with the bases loaded with Eagles, one man out, tied in the 10th. Shaw’s spot in the order came up.
But with Shaw out of the game, it was Travis Ferrick, who had not gotten a hit this season entering the at-bat, stepping to the plate instead. The Eagles’ utility player grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, ending BC’s last serious rally of the night.
The frustration over men left on base clouded an excellent bullpen effort by the Eagles, an area of the team Gambino noted as work in progress. Jon Nicklas tossed 2 2/3 innings of scoreless extra-inning relief, allowing only a hit and three walks. Although charged with the loss, Nick Poore also put in an impressive effort, pitching 2 1/3 strong innings.
All pale in comparison to the dominant work of Mike King, who relieved Jesse Adams in the fourth inning. King mowed down the Wolfpack’s hard-hitting lineup with five innings, stranding four baserunners with six strikeouts. “Mike King was as dominant as we’ve gotten used to seeing from Mike King,” Gambino said.
The bullpen couldn’t hold up for as long as Gambino needed. A complete 15th-inning collapse from Poore, Trever Massey, and Luke Fernandes led to a six-run outburst by NC State, putting the game completely out of reach.
Yet BC’s game really came down to those men left on base, and what could have happened if Shaw was still in the game in that bases loaded, one-out, extra inning situation. “I knew it was a gamble at the time, but it was a gamble of taking the chance to win the baseball game there,” Gambino said.
There’s no way the Wolfpack could’ve avoided pitching to the powerful right fielder Shaw. Working around him threatened walking in the winning run. Directly attacking him risked an accidental meatball that Shaw could’ve sent into the stratosphere.
But Gambino removed Shaw. And knowing what he knows now, betcha he wishes he could’ve taken it back.
Featured Image by Michael Sullivan / Heights Editor