Trailing 4–0 through six innings of its second game against Penn on Sunday, it looked as if the Yale baseball team would come back down to earth with a doubleheader split. But four inning later, with runners on first and second and one batter gone in the bottom of the 10th inning, designated hitter Benny Wanger ’19 smoked a walk-off double into the gap in left-center field to keep the Elis rolling through conference play.
A strong, complete-game performance from ace Scott Politz ’19 and a balanced offensive attack lifted the Bulldogs (14–12, 5–1 Ivy) to a 6–2 win in the opening of Sunday’s twin bill. In the second act, a rally against the Quaker (14–13, 5–3) bullpen erased an early 4–0 deficit, and Wanger’s decisive intervention gave the Bulldogs a 5–4 victory and their fourth consecutive win.
“I knew going into the at bat that [Penn pitcher Jake Nelson] definitely did not want to walk me and have the bases loaded with one out,” Wanger said. “When I got to a 2–0 count, I could sit on a fastball and try to drive it into a gap. I got my pitch and put a good swing on it. It’s a huge win for us and hopefully gives us some momentum moving forward.”
The Elis entered the weekend with a 3–1 record in the Ivy League. After the weather washed out Saturday’s doubleheader against Columbia and postponed it to Monday, the matchup against Penn provided a good benchmark of Yale’s improvement, as the Bulldogs dropped both matchups against the Quakers last season.
Yale sent Politz out to the mound in the matinee, with ace in search of his fourth consecutive victory and sixth on the season. Although he walked three batters, after walking just seven batters in his previous six starts, and whiffed a season-low three, the Bulldog hurler went the distance for his third complete game of the season, scattering five hits in the process.
“Scott is just such a competitor,” catcher Andrew Herrera ’17 said. “He is able to throw three good pitches in almost any count and he never gives in. Even when he does occasionally fall behind in the count he makes quality pitches and doesn’t give up anything easy.”
The Bulldogs only touched Penn starter Mike Reitcheck for seven hits, but were efficient in producing six runs. The Elis put three runs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second to break the deadlock, highlighted by a pair of two-out, run-scoring hits from shortstop Dai Dai Otaka ’20 and center fielder Tim DeGraw ’19.
After a mid-game lull where both pitchers exchanged scoreless frames, Yale broke the game open with another three-run outburst in the bottom of the fifth. Back-to-back doubles by Otaka and DeGraw pushed the first run across, before a sacrifice fly and a passed ball brought home the fifth and sixth runs of the game. DeGraw’s two runs batted in on the day brings his season total to 21, good for second best on the team. That, in addition to his team-leading 25 runs, showcases his importance to the Eli offense from the leadoff slot.
Politz cruised through the first five innings, allowing just two hits while facing just two batters over the minimum. A two-out walk in the sixth seemed to pose little threat, but the Quakers strung together three consecutive hits to score twice in the frame and mar Politz’s shutout. The righty returned to the mound in the seventh to polish off his complete-game victory.
Penn jumped out to an early 4–0 lead in the second game of the doubleheader. The Quakers put up a single tally on the scoreboard in the third and posted three more runs on a walk, a bunt single and two hits to chase Bulldog starter Mason Kukowski ’18 in the fourth. Right-hander Tyler Sapsford ’20 entered the game with a runner on base and no outs, but retired three of the next four batters to escape the inning unscathed.
Wanger singled home a run in the seventh to put Yale on the board and sparked the game tying play in the next inning. Facing a 4–2 deficit with runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom on the eighth, Wanger lifted an innocent fly ball to left field that was misplayed by Penn outfielder Tim Graul; the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year let the ball drop in for a two-base error that scored second baseman Simon Whiteman ’19 and captain and third baseman Richard Slenker ’17 to tie the game. Yale took full advantage of the gift, capping off the comeback two innings later with Wanger’s walk-off double. The designated hitter has driven in 15 runs this year, the third highest total on the team, in just 32 at-bats.
Right-hander Griffin Dey ’19 earned his third win of the season as the fifth pitcher out of the bullpen, working a scoreless 1.1 innings. In total, the Eli relievers tossed seven shutout innings in relief of Kukowski, highlighted by Sapsford’s 3.1 innings of two-hit work. The shutout display for the Bulldog pen may constitute a turning point for a group that has struggled up to this point. The four Yale pitchers who have made more than four relief appearances have earned run averages of 4.97, 5.14, 6.16 and 7.71 respectively, while the bullpen as a whole has blown three saves and saved just two games.
The Elis currently have the best record in the Ivy League at 5–1, and return to action today against a Columbia team riding a three-game winning streak.
“[It was a] big team win,” Otaka said. “We brought the juice and came ready to cook Penn, and we capitalized on their mistakes. Politz and our bullpen did a phenomenal job and our hitters raked. [It is a] great honor being a part of this team.”
An earlier version of this article erroneously described Yale pitcher Scott Politz ’19 as lefthanded.