April 24, 2007

Consistency still out of baseball’s reach

There were all the elements necessary for a great weekend for baseball: freshly grilled bratwursts and hot dogs in the stands, 70-degree weather with no clouds in sight, strong starting pitching, and a great awakening in the middle of the order. Unfortunately for the Maroons, it couldn’t come together all at once, and Chicago couldn’t muster anything more than a pair of doubleheader splits.

Finishing off the weekend with a 2–2 record, the Maroons (10–13) took one of two from Dominican (11–15) at a sun-soaked J. Kyle Field Saturday, then found more of the same in a pair of games with Elmhurst (13–14) Sunday. With a larger-than-usual crowd due in part to the weather and free food from the Phoenix Phanatix, the South Siders left the tying run on second in the opener to fall 4–3 but rode a stingy complete-game performance from third-year lefty Nate Ginsberg to pull out a 6–2 victory in the second set.

With two more games on Sunday, the squad had a chance to get some real momentum in their quest for another winning season. An 11–7 thumping in the first game got things going, but the squad couldn’t hold a 7–0 lead against the Bluejays in game two and fell 10–7.

With third-year ace Dominik Meyer toeing the rubber against the Stars on Saturday, the Maroons had to like their chances going in, and for the most part, the righty lived up to the hype. Meyer dazzled the crowd and kept the opposition off balance to the tune of 10 strikeouts over seven full frames. It was his spurts of inconsistency, though, that ended up costing him. Dominican got struck for two runs on two hits and a walk in the third, then made it a 4–0 deficit for Chicago in the fifth with a two-run rally boosted by two walks, an error, and a wild pitch.

Three Maroons crossed the plate in the bottom of the inning to cut it to one, but the lineup couldn’t muster any more over the final two innings. With two out in the bottom of the seventh, Chicago had the tying run on second and second-year Kyle Schmitt at the plate, but after a lengthy at bat, the first baseman ended the game with a popup.

Meyer took the loss for the home side to even his record up at 3–3 with a 1.40 ERA. Third-year Merak Metz took the win, conceding three earned runs on four hits and three whiffs in 4 2/3 innings.

After his squad came oh-so-close to a comeback in the opener, Ginsberg shut the door on any chance of a repeat from the Stars with a strong outing in the second contest. Despite giving up eight walks to go with three hits, his seven big punchouts and some good location when it mattered most helped him to pitch out of jams and keep the team in the game. The offense took the lead early and had an answer for every Dominican comeback to nail down the victory.

Allowing four runs, two earned, in 3 1/3 innings, first-year righty Derek Zdeb (0–2, 8.68) took the loss for Dominican, while Ginsberg ran his record to 2–2 on the season with a 3.95 ERA. The convincing victory delighted the large crowd that had turned out for the day’s promotions.

“It was great to have a lot of people out there,” fourth-year second baseman Tony Zitek said. “We really appreciate it when the fans come out.”

The offensive productivity continued against Elmhurst. In game one, the Maroons came out swinging and never let up as they piled up 11 runs on 14 hits to give Cozzi all the run support he would need to earn his third win of the season. Schmitt notched his second home run of the season with a solo shot to left in the seventh, and Ginsberg hit his first home run in two years as a member of the maroon and white with a two-run blast in the second.

The considerable run support was enough for Cozzi to notch the W despite allowing seven runs, four earned, over seven innings. He let in seven hits and two walks while striking out five. Second-year southpaw Steve Hagstrom took the loss for Elmhurst in his first decision of the year, allowing eight earned runs on six hits and six walks in just three innings.

Looking to make it three in a row, Chicago got off to a hot start in the second game as well. Three runs in the first and then four more in the second gave the squad a seven-spot on the board, and the game had all the makings of a rout. That was how it stayed until the fourth, when Elmhurst got its head off the chopping block against second-year Alex Gallan and fourth-year Robert Wilson. A five-run fifth and another run in the sixth left the visitors clinging to a 7–6 lead going into the last of the seventh.

With second-year Payton Leonhardt in to close out the game, the Maroons moved toward a sweep with a strikeout to open the inning. An error by first-year shortstop Robby Serpico put a runner on first, and two batters later, with runners on second and third and one out, Leonhardt balked in the tying run to force the game to extra innings.

This stay of execution was all the Bluejays would need to send the Maroons back to Hyde Park on a down note. Leonhardt helped his cause by notching the first out on a pickoff throw, but a single and a hit batsman followed to bring third-year centerfielder Tom Rhein to the plate with a chance to win. He deposited a Leonhardt delivery over the fence in left for the walk-off dinger on his only hit of the game.

Fourth-year righty Nick Ferrin limited the high-powered South Siders to three hits and a walk over the final five innings to improve his record to 4–1. Leonhardt was saddled with the loss, his second in two decisions this spring.