Three times in the last 63 years of the MLB has a team led by eight runs heading into the eighth inning and lost the game. Out of the 3238 games in that situation, the winning team has managed to hold onto its massive advantage 3235 times.
If an over 99.9 percent chance of winning sounds like a foregone conclusion of victory, then Boston College baseball’s bullpen would say otherwise. BC’s pitching staff has struggled all season, but Saturday’s display of self-defeating generosity by the Eagles’ relievers was a new low for a team that cannot get out of its own way.
After falling 5-2 to No. 6 Notre Dame (20-9, 18-8 Atlantic Coast) in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Eagles (16-21, 6-18) held a hefty 9-0 lead by the sixth inning of the second contest, due in large part to an early offensive explosion and a seven-inning gem from Alex Stiegler.
Stiegler recorded a season-high seven innings of work, giving up just one run and six baserunners.
BC head coach Mike Gambino opted for Joey Walsh in the eighth inning, and the wheels promptly fell off, as a combination of Walsh, Charlie Coon, and Joey Ryan gave up 12 runs. The Eagles could not recover and fell 13-9.
BC was on the verge of claiming its first series win since its miraculous win over Auburn to claim the series, but home runs from Notre Dame’s Niko Kavadas and Zack Prajzner and walk trouble from the bullpen allowed the advantage to slip away.
The Eagles produced one run in the first inning but drove out Irish starter Tanner Kohlhepp quickly with a five-run third inning. He loaded the bases after hitting Jack Cunningham and walking Vince Cimini, so Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett went to the bullpen to bring in Joe Sheridan.
In his 2.2 innings, Kohlhepp gave up five runs—four of them earned—on three hits, two strikeouts, three hit batters, and a walk. Sheridan could not get the last out to clean up his mess, giving up a single, a walk, and a double before getting Sal Frelick to pop out.
Sheridan’s struggles continued into the fourth, and Jarrett pulled him in favor of Alex Rao after giving up back-to-back hits to start the inning. Rao intentionally walked Cunningham, loading the bases with one out. A throw home beat Brian Dempsey for the second out, but Rao couldn’t escape the jam against Dante Baldelli, who added his second hit of the game with a two-RBI single up the middle, extending BC’s lead to 8-0.
Baldelli finished the game 3-for-4 with four RBIs. A string of Notre Dame errors and passed balls allowed BC to put up one more run in the fifth, putting the Irish down 9-0.
The rapid decline of BC’s bullpen allowed the Fighting Irish to climb back into the game. Walsh stepped onto the rubber with a 9-1 cushion, and surrendered a solo homer to Kavadas, his first batter. After two more Notre Dame players got on base, Prajzner took Walsh yard as well to cut the lead to 9-5 midway through the eighth.
Walsh got the next batter to ground out, and the Eagles needed just one more out to end the inning. The graduate lefty could not seal it, though, giving up a four-pitch walk and a single. Gambino pulled Walsh in favor of Coon after he hit Ryan Cole.
Coon walked three batters straight, and BC suddenly held just a one-run lead. Ryan entered the game as the third BC pitcher of the inning, and an infield hit allowed two more runs to score for Notre Dame’s first lead of the game. The Fighting Irish piled up three more runs for a staggering total of 12 in the inning, and Gambino resorted to Max Gieg to end the inning with a strikeout.
BC cycled through five relievers in just two innings, spoiling Stiegler’s gem and letting another lead slip away, which has been a trend the Eagles can’t seem to escape this season.
In game one of the doubleheader, Mason Pelio received the nod. Though he gave up three early runs across the first two innings, he pitched four more scoreless frames. Pelio opened the game by loading the bases right away but only allowed minimal damage, with a sac fly and a delayed steal putting Notre Dame up 2-0 in the first.
Notre Dame chipped away for one more run in the second inning, and the Eagles responded by loading the bases up with no outs in their half of the inning. Notre Dame starter John Michael Bertrand escaped the inning unscathed, however, getting Cimini and Peter Burns to ground out, while Cunningham was thrown out at third base.
The two teams exchanged a scoreless next four innings, and Bertrand retired 12 Eagles in a row. Pelio worked with at least one runner on base every inning, but he limited the Irish to 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
BC bats finally came alive in the seventh, as a Cody Morissette single and a Luke Gold double forced Notre Dame to go to the bullpen. Bertrand recorded two runs on four hits, three walks, and a strikeout over 6.1 innings. Kohlhepp, who started the second game of the doubleheader, entered in relief and retired the next two batters, but the Eagles plated two runs in the process.
Kavadas added two insurance runs for the Irish with a homer in the ninth, his first of two on the day, to give Notre Dame its final 5-2 scoreline.
Featured Image by Aditya Rao / Heights Staff