After being eliminated from playoff contention Saturday afternoon, the Yale baseball team gutted out two impressive victories on Sunday at Harvard to extend what is now a six-year streak of winning with at least two of its four annual games against its Cambridge rivals.
The Elis’ playoff chances were extinguished after dropping both games in the first doubleheader, falling two more games behind Dartmouth in the standings. But the Bulldogs bounced back, and were able to play spoiler and knock the Cantabs out of the playoff race on Sunday behind two dominant pitching performances as well as some clutch hitting from catcher Robert Baldwin ’15.
“Our team played really loose,” Baldwin said. “We had a great team dinner last night and breakfast this morning. We went into the games with clear minds. Our pitchers … threw awesome, keeping the game close and giving the offense a chance to win.”
Yale’s weekend started off in far too familiar fashion, as the Elis dropped a pair of fairly lopsided contests, 10–5 and 7–0, to see its Ivy losing streak swell to 10 games. On Sunday, the tables turned as the Bulldogs churned out a pair of tight victories, winning 4–2 and 2–1.
The ball was in the hand of ace Chris Lanham ’16 for the opening game and, despite going the distance in the seven-inning contest, early offense from the Cantabs’ bats paired with a couple defensive miscues put the Bulldogs in an early hole.
Harvard put up eight runs over the first two innings, with Yale cutting the deficit to 8–5 in the third, but the Crimson bullpen managed to stifle the Bulldog offense and prevent a comeback attempt.
Righty Chris Moates ’16 took the hill in the second afternoon affair between the two teams on Saturday and lasted just 3.2 innings, as the Crimson bats jumped on Yale early once again, posting a pair of three-run innings to open the game. Yale’s offense stagnated in the second contest. The Bulldogs struggled to muster any rally attempts as they failed to send more than four batters to the plate in any of the nine innings.
Before Sunday’s games, however, the Bulldogs flipped the switch. The Elis outhit Harvard 9–5 in a 10-inning marathon marked by stellar pitching. Behind a commanding start from right-hander Chasen Ford ’17, who allowed just one earned run on three hits over 7.2 innings, the Yale offense managed to will the contest into extra innings.
Trailing by a run as both teams entered the seventh inning, typically the final inning in the first half of an Ivy League doubleheader, the Bulldogs orchestrated the tying run thanks to some Harvard mishaps. Second baseman Nate Adams ’16 singled to right but was able to advance to third base due to a Harvard error. A passed ball three batters later allowed Adams to cross home plate and extend the ball game.
Late-inning specialist Mason Kukowski ’18 entered the game in relief of Ford and shut down the Crimson the rest of the way. He did so despite escaping a jam in the home half of the ninth inning when the Cantabs had the potential game-winning run on third with just one out.
In the top of the 10th, center fielder Green Campbell ’15 singled with one out, but he was caught stealing at second. Designated hitter Harrison White ’17, however, gave the Bulldogs another opportunity, singling then stealing second to put himself in scoring position. Following a walk by first baseman Eric Hsieh ’15, who entered the weekend with the second-best on-base percentage in the nation at 0.527, Baldwin drove a double to center, scoring both White and Hsieh.
The late-game heroics improved Yale’s record to 3–3 in games in which Ford starts. The Lake Forest, California native allowed the second-fewest hits in a start in his career, as he baffled the Crimson lineup long enough for his offense to come through.
“There was a relief when I saw my team come in and pick me up,” Ford said. “Regardless of how well I do, I was happy the team could come together for a win.”
In the final game of the weekend, righthander Eric Brodkowitz ’18 picked up right where Ford and Kukowski left off, as he went nine strong to pick up his second complete game of the season, allowing just a sole run in the first inning.
While he is tied for the team lead in complete games with Lanham, both of Brodkowitz’s complete games have come in nine-inning games, a feat no other Eli has yet accomplished this season.
The freshman surrendered 12 hits but did a masterful job in stranding Crimson base runners all day long, including a pair of bases-loaded situations.
“I think I simplified [my approach] a little out of the stretch,” Brodkowitz said. “It wasn’t about making big power pitches, but instead about throwing quality pitches that our defense, who played incredibly well, could work with.”
In a pitcher’s duel, it was once again Baldwin who provided the big hit. Through 6.2 innings, the Elis had been held virtually silent, managing only two hits. At that point, Hsieh singled to bring up the hot-hitting catcher.
Baldwin stepped up and smashed a pitch beyond the left-center field fence to flip the momentum and provide Brodkowitz with all the run support he needed.
“In both games we didn’t have a ton of offense going, and I had some pretty poor previous at bats,” Baldwin said. “So I went up those two at bats and really tried to play volleyball with the left center fence.”
Meanwhile, the first-year pitcher lowered his earned run average to 5.40, third-best on the team behind Kukowski and Drew Scott ’18.
With three newcomers leading all qualified pitchers on the team in ERA, the Bulldogs still believe that there is something left to play for now that postseason play is not in the cards.
“Our team has a ton of heart, as cliche as it sounds. We are insanely competitive and hate to lose, especially to Harvard,” Brodkowitz said. “We play to win because we love winning, and I can’t see our team ever throwing in the towel. We’re playing hard for our seniors, and winning is way more fun to be honest.”
The Bulldogs have five games remaining this season, including a four-game series against Brown this weekend. To commemorate Yale’s 150th season, the Elis will face Wesleyan, the first opponent the Bulldogs ever faced, at home on Tuesday afternoon.