The opening game of a weekend series is often thought to be the “pitchers’ duel” game. Both teams often have their best starter going and coming off of a typical day off, their best relievers are usually available as well. The thought is that if the bats can produce at least five runs, the best pitching on the team should earn a win. Most would agree that 7 runs on such a night should be more than enough. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Indiana on Thursday evening. Despite taking a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Hoosier bullpen allowed 1 inherited run to score and then gave up 6 more runs to drop the contest 9-7, putting Indiana in a situation needing to sweep the remainder of the weekend in order to win the series.
Jack Perkins has solidified himself as the “Friday night guy” for Indiana baseball. He was electric in 6.0 innings of work. He gave up three runs (two earned, although the unearned run was from his own error), only two hits and three walks. He was sitting 94-95 with his fastball all evening and working an assortment of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance. He gave up no hits in the first five innings of the contest and struck out 9 Xavier batters in the process.
— Carl James (@jovian34) March 18, 2022
Perkins exited after giving up a lead off, ground-rule double in the top of the seventh inning. Reese Sharp immediately came in to attempt to hold the 3-2 lead. Our own Cassady Palmer dug into her scorecards and tallied that so far on the season 59% of runners inherited by a relief pitcher have gone on to score. In 17 games that has been 22 inherited runs scored, more than one run per game on average. The 22nd run was the the one that Sharp inherited Thursday night from Perkins. It tied the game. Sharp would then surrender 3 more of his own that same inning.
While the inherited runner situation is clearly not new for this Hoosier bullpen, the way it happened was different. Prior games the issues have often been a series of walks on straight pitches with lots of 3-0 counts. After the game head coach Jeff Mercer described it, “[Reese Sharp] had a tough time putting guys away. We got into counts, got in to 2-strike counts, 1-2, 0-2, 1-2, just wasn’t able to put them away. Credit to their [Xavier] guys, there’s no holes in the swings, they don’t expand the zone, they don’t chase down.” Sharp appeared to be mixing his pitches well, but Xavier was able to square up fastball and off-speed that Sharp threw in the strike zone.
The Hoosier offense was quite good. Even though Indiana did not register a hit until the sixth inning, the outs were loud. Coach Mercer said, “I was really happy. I mean I think the first inning they lined out three times, second inning hit the ball to the wall. You know as you hit the ball hard, they’re going to put guys on the warning track and stand there, so you hit the ball hard throughout, just at guys, and you still find a way to score seven runs, walk eight times.”
— Carl James (@jovian34) March 17, 2022
Indiana took a brief lead in the bottom of the sixth inning when Josh Pyne hit a ball where Xavier couldn’t put a fielder, beyond the left center field fence. After the seventh inning stretch when IU was down 6-3, the Hoosier took advantage of two walks and couple of Xavier defensive mistakes to plate three runs (two unearned) to tie the game.
Needing a shutdown inning, Sharp gave up a pair of singles to lead off the top of the eighth inning. Pyne made a Major league caliber bare-handed play to record an out on a sacrifice bunt. A run scored on a ground ball out, and then a wild pitch started a sequence in which Matthew Ellis realized too late that no one was covering third and threw the ball away allowing a run to score. John-Biagio Modugno was brought in and stopped the bleeding. Modugno came back in the ninth and would then surrender a monster solo home run in the ninth and leave the Hoosiers in a three-run hole they could not dig out of in the bottom of the ninth.
The loss drops Indiana to 7-10 on the year. Despite the losing record, Indiana has a positive run differential of 15 runs on the season. The Hoosier victories are by a median of nine runs, the losses by a median of between two and three runs. The Hoosiers have yet to win a game decided by fewer than five runs. With three games left in the series the Hoosiers have a chance to climb to .500 if they were able to take the series. The next game is scheduled at 12 noon ET Saturday. With Modugno’s move to the bullpen, no starting pitcher has been announced. Bradley Brehmer and Ryan Kraft are slated to start for Indiana against Xavier in a Sunday double header at noon.