Rookie earns first career win in relief following injury
Usually in baseball, a team will play nine innings and then call it a day.
Occasionally, a team will play a doubleheader and might have to play back-to-back nine-inning games.
The Rutgers baseball team was tasked Saturday in Storrs, Conn., with having to play 21 innings.
Originally, the Scarlet Knights were supposed to play a normal series with a game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but the game on Friday was postponed to resume on Saturday in the top of the seventh inning due to inclement weather.
The resumption was followed by a doubleheader due to the impending storm coming on Sunday.
That scenario was something that neither team could prepare for, said head coach Joe Litterio.
“The major part of how it affects us is how you use your bullpen. That was the most difficult thing going into Saturday,” Litterio said. “With the rain coming, you are always worried about bringing a kid in, having the rain come and then losing that guy.”
The rain played a large factor this weekend, as the Knights and UConn played only two complete games. The third game on Saturday only made it through four outs before it was postponed to Sunday.
Yesterday they did not even attempt to start, and called it a series after two games.
The second game on Saturday did not go according to plan for Rutgers.
In the top of the seventh inning the Huskies led Rutgers, 11-0. The Knights went on to score four runs before the game ended, but it was too late, as they dropped the eventual last game of the series, 11-4.
For senior first baseman Brian O’Grady, going up to bat when there is a large deficit is tough, but making things simple is key.
“Any time [you are facing a deficit] like that, you just want to get on base any way you can and pass it on to the next guy and see what you can make happen,” O’Grady said. “But, in that situation, you just don’t want to be the one to make an out.”
After the postponement from Friday, sophomore lefthander Howie Brey finished the game for his first save of the season.
Although Rutgers won, 7-5, it was not the way the Knights had designed it.
A batted ball struck Freshman lefthander Ryan Fleming to start the bottom of the second inning. Fleming was taken out as a precaution, and freshman righthander Kevin Baxter took over.
The long-relief role was unexpected.
“He was going to be in the bullpen this weekend, and unfortunately Ryan [Fleming] got hit in the head,” Litterio said. “We took him out of the game for safety reasons, and Kevin came in and did a great job.”
Rutgers also did not expect to play its first six innings Friday and then resume Saturday.
A strong fifth inning bolstered the Knights’ lead. Rutgers batted around to score four runs on only one hit, with errors from UConn aiding offensive production.
The strong hitting allowed Baxter to earn his first career win with Rutgers.
Coming in to pitch five innings after Fleming went down with an injury was not something that Baxter expected. Locating pitches to throw strikes early also helped the Waterford, N.J., native.
“A lot was working. I was able to consistently throw strikes and get ahead early in the count,” Baxter said. “I was not prepared for [Fleming going down with an injury] at all. I’ve never done anything like that before where I had to warm up real quickly. It was kind of nerve-wracking, but I knew from having started games that I could pitch more than an inning or two and go deep into the game.”
For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.