May 17, 2005

History made by Danny Y

Third-year righty Dan Yeksigian's no-hitter was a fitting ending to baseball's great comeback this season. The win featured the kind of hitting, pitching, and defensive performances that the team was looking for all year, a level of play they knew would be required in order to beat strong teams like Rose-Hulman.

After losing five starting hitters from one of the nation's top five Division III offenses, it was clear to all involved that this year would require a different brand of play. The coaches were looking to the pitching and defense to carry most of the burden and the offense was called upon to hit in the clutch, rather than to hit for power.

That didn't happen at the beginning of the year, as Chicago went 6-14 behind sloppy defense and disconnected hitting. By the Maroons' April 27 win over eighth-ranked Carthage, however, the team had begun to figure out how to win tough games. I wrote after that game that the Carthage win, the sixth of an eight-game winning streak that raised the team to .500, was a career-defining moment for the players on this team and a lesson of how baseball should be played as a team sport.

To the surprise of many on the team, that win didn't even turn out to be the defining moment of the season. In Saturday's season finale, the cool-headed Yeksigian demonstrated the dominance that saw him grow into the team's ace this year. Using heavy movement on his fastball and an effective mix of changeups and breaking balls thrown for strikes, Yeksigian struck out 10 hitters and got nine groundball outs to two flyball outs. It's little-known secret that the latter ratio was the key to his success. He won that way almost all year long, demanding a lot out of his infielders and rarely being beaten with a damaging long ball.

As is the case with any no-hitter, Yeksigian got some help from his defense on a tough groundball up the middle. The ball deflected off Yeksigian's foot and slowly rolled towards second base, where fourth-year shortstop Steve Ruh was waiting. Ruh's occasional defensive difficulties were not in evidence this time around as he made a perfect play, fielding the ball bare-handed and firing a bullet to first. Yeksigian also got into trouble walking the first two batters in the seventh, threatening the shutout and putting the defense on its toes, but he gutted his way out in a fantastic performance, following his save in the first game with what appears to be the first no-hitter in the school's Division I and III history.

His numbers for the year were impressive: 8-3, 3.31 ERA, 6 CG, 2 ShO, 73.1 IP, 72 H, 33 BB, and 78 K. If you take out his first game this year, a 23-2 loss in Florida that was only the team's second outdoor outing of the season, he was an amazing 8-2 with a 2.56 ERA and 59 hits in 70.1 innings. That's an incredible rebound after his control struggles last year left him with a 7.71 ERA.

Most of all, he came up big for the team's graduating players in their last game and helped finish the year off with a winning record. He appeared in the team's last four games, showing calm nerves and dependability, while squeezing just a few more strikeouts and groundballs out his heavily worked arm. A good teammate in the dugout and a difference maker on the mound, Yeksigian stepped up this year and made it one worth watching. The rest of the team certainly deserves credit for building off his performances and on the whole coming up with clutch hits and defense. As the leader of and the spark behind the turnaround, Yeksigian was a fitting most valuable player for the team.