“Momentum” is a catchy buzzword for sports fans. Describing a sudden switch in the track of a game, fans say that the momentum shifted. They describe runs leading to victory by saying a team “seized the momentum” and rode it all the way into the win column. In no sport is momentum as fickle as in baseball. No easy way to track the momentum in a ballgame exists, as it does not follow a linear progression, the way a basketball game can, for example.
In part, this stems from the fact that every half inning is like a separate game unto itself. A more noticeable factor of sudden swings of momentum in a baseball game is a change in pitching. The starter can blank the opposition for seven innings, only to have the opposing team roar to life against the new reliever who enters in the eighth.
In its 8-7 loss to UConn on Tuesday, a loss snapping a five game winning streak, Birdball fell victim to this particular shift in momentum. With Nick Poore pitching his best game at the college level, the team carried a 6-2 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning. The senior southpaw fanned a career-high nine batters in five innings, allowing just two runs on two hits, both solo home runs. The early offensive outburst was highlighted by Chris Shaw’s booming RBI double in the first and Donovan Casey’s three-run homer in the fifth, the freshman outfielder’s first collegiate longball and one of his four hits on the afternoon. Dominant on the mound and in the batter’s box, Birdball appeared well on its way to extending the winning streak.
Yet, at the team’s highest point, that volatile momentum reared its head, in the form of a UConn rally against reliever Luke Fernandes in the bottom of the sixth. Replacing Poore, the sophomore’s struggles on the mound immediately changed the tenor of the game. With one out, UConn loaded the bases, a process aided by Fernandes’ plunking of cleanup hitter Blake Davey.
After getting an easy pop up to shortstop, the inning took a sharp downward turn. Following Willy Yahn’s lacing of a two-run single to left, Jon Testani ripped a two-run double to the gap in left center, knotting the score up at six apiece. In the span of seven batters, the entire feel of the game shifted, with Fernandes’ struggles negating Poore’s brilliance and placing the onus on Birdball’s offense to right the ship.
But the proficiency UConn demonstrated in hitting with runners in scoring position eluded BC, costing the team a chance at victory. In the last three frames, Birdball went 2-for-9 with a runner in scoring position, leaving crucial opportunities on the table. The struggles were highlighted in the seventh, where BC loaded the bases with one out. After Nick Sciortino put the team ahead, 7-6, with an RBI single, the team failed to capitalize on the golden opportunity of having the bases loaded, something it would come to rue shortly.
After UConn knotted the game at seven in the bottom half of the frame, BC again began the eighth with runners on first and second, nobody out. The circumstances could not have been any better for Birdball to reclaim the lead, yet three quick outs later, UConn neutralized the threat without the ball leaving the infield. This sounded the death knell for the team, as UConn once again demonstrated its two-out hitting prowess in the bottom of the eighth, with Vinny Siena bringing home Yahn for what proved to be the go ahead run, after a BC rally never materialized in the ninth.
The dominant hitting and pitching performance prior to the bottom of the sixth yielded almost exactly the opposite in the game’s waning moments. In their final three frames on the mound, BC pitchers surrendered six runs and 10 baserunners. In their final three frames at the plate, BC hitters left six men on base. The two made for a deadly combination that Birdball could not overcome.
Momentum shifts in baseball can leave teams grasping at straws, seemingly unable to explain how their perfect day has been derailed in a matter of minutes. Birdball’s loss on Tuesday provided a clear illustration of the reasons why America’s pastime provides such compelling theater for onlookers. It is a game so wonderful to watch and so impossible to predict, in which all it takes to send a winning team into a self-destructive spiral is a simple change on the mound.
Featured Image by Michael Sullivan / Heights Editor