Ever play a game of wiffleball by Indian Rubber rules? It’s not easy to throw that white plastic orb with holes in it to the bases, and it often makes more sense to just peg the runner as he or she attempts to advance. Since getting hit by a wiffleball hurts as much as being slapped with a feather, it’s by far the most effective way to get out onto the field and play a competitive (and potentially wild) game.
Translating those rules to actual baseball doesn’t work as well. Anyone who has taken the slow trot to first while grabbing his forearm or back can tell you how much it stings to get plunked by a pitch or throw. Often it’ll sting for days, and it’ll definitely require a thorough icing after the game.
Had the Boston College Eagles used those rules on Sunday, their game against the Clemson Tigers may have turned out differently. Instead, uncharacteristically poor defense (coupled with some bad luck) plagued BC (16-18, 6-11 ACC) in a 6-3 loss.
In the top of the seventh inning, up 4-3, the Tigers (18-18, 9-9 ACC) hexed the Eagles’ infield. After allowing a leadoff walk to left fielder Reed Rohlman, BC reliever Luke Fernandes induced catcher Chris Okey to ground to Eagles’ third baseman Jake Palomaki. The freshman botched the play, forcing the ball into the outfield and setting up runners at second and third.
What happened next will, in all likelihood, never happen again in baseball history.
BC head coach Mike Gambino brought the infield in with second baseman Chase Pinder at the plate. Fernandes forced him to ground to third base, but Palomaki hit Rohlman in the back as he dashed to home plate, putting the fifth run on the board for Clemson.
“I field the ball, and I probably should’ve taken another step out of the baseline so I had a clear target to throw to [catcher Nick Sciortino] behind the plate,” Palomaki said. “It’s one of those baseball things that kind of just happens.”
But a fluke like that rarely happens once per season for a team, let alone in the same game. On back-to-back plays. Naturally, of course, until today.
The ensuing batter, center fielder Tyler Slaton, hit a sharp ground ball to Joe Cronin at first. Not to be outdone, the Eagles’ infielder hit Pinder in the back trying to start a 3-6-3 double play. His throw ricocheted off the runner’s back into left field, allowing Okey to score and quickly turning a one-run lead into a three-run lead.
“It’s a fairly simple solution, right? You’ve got to start a little better, you got to catch the baseball a little better,” Gambino said. “Regardless of what’s happening, just move on to the next pitch.”
Yet Fernandes couldn’t work around the three errors, forcing left-hander Jesse Adams into the game. The reliever worked around a bases loaded, no out situation with two strikeouts and a play at the plate instigated by second baseman Blake Butera. This followed up the magic spun by Adams on Saturday, when he faced the same situation in the ninth before shutting the door in an 8-7 win. Gambino praised the development of his reliever, noting the great job he did perfecting his changeup today.
“He’s turning into a really, really good ACC arm,” Gambino said. “He’s what he believed he can be and what we believed he can be.”
The Eagles’ arms couldn’t get out of their own way on the mound either. Nine walks (and one hit by pitch) in the game by BC’s staff resulted in the first four runs for Clemson. Starter Nick Poore lasted only four innings plus, tossing 79 pitches, only 46 of them for strikes, for a .583 percent clip.
But BC’s struggles continued at the plate as well. Tigers’ right-hander Brody Koerner scattered eight BC hits across 7 2/3 innings of work while striking out nine and walking two. And after taking the lead in the fourth, BC never mustered a significant threat against the powerful Clemson pitcher—he regularly touched 90 on the gun, even on his breaking balls.
The Eagles will have to search for offense with slugger Chris Shaw out four to six weeks with a broken hamate bone. He will have surgery to remove the bone—people don’t need the hamate, but the surgery will force the extended recovery period. Although Shaw is aiming for a return two and a half weeks from now in the series against Virginia Tech, Gambino believes that would push his rehab too quickly.
“No one’s going to feel sorry for us, they’re not going to feel sorry for themselves,” Gambino said. “We’re so closely knit, and yeah, it’s bad news, but we’ll deal with it together, man.”
But for the Eagles, it’s just one more huge problem they have to deal with down the stretch—BC is also down two pitchers in starter Jeff Burke (Tommy John surgery) and reliever Bobby Skogsbergh (frayed shoulder labrum) each done for the year. To make a serious bid for a berth in the ACC Tournament, Birdball players on both the mound and at the plate must step forward to overcome these teammate losses.
In the meantime, BC must overcome this jinx on its normally strong and consistent infield defense, because baseball won’t be allowing Indian Rubber rules any time soon.
Featured Image by Tom DeVoto / Heights Editor