It was as expected with a lot on the line…game one of the Buckeyes series with Minnesota was tight, but no one expected it would take 18 innings to decide an outcome.
Minneapolis – It was as one would expect with so much on the line. Minnesota sitting seventh in the Big Ten standings, and Ohio State standing eighth.
It was a pitchers’ duel through the first seven innings, but little did anyone know at the time that game one of Saturday’s ‘scheduled’ double-header would turn out to be the Big Ten’s game of the year in terms of drama and length. As it turned out, the game went on so long they didn’t even bother with a second game!
Ohio State’s Garrett Burhenn was again solid, throwing the first 5.2 innings. He scattered 4 hits, struck out three, walked four, and gave up a pair of runs. Not as sharp as he had been in previous starts, still, he continually frustrated a Minnesota lineup that through those first six innings went hitless with men in scoring position.
But ironically, Gopher sophomore Max Meyer, the conference leader in ERA, was just as good, limiting the Buckeyes to four hits through the first seven innings, striking out seven.
Still, the Buckeyes struck first, scoring a run in the top of the first on a base hit by catcher Dillon Dingler and a two-out double by shortstop Zach Dezenzo.
Minnesota came back to tie the score on an unearned run in the bottom of the inning when Burhenn hit the leadoff batter, a passed ball by Dingler allowed the runner to advance, and the Gophers ultimately scored on a sac fly to center field.
Ohio State retook the lead in the top of the fourth on an infield error that allowed leadoff batter Brady Cherry to reach second base. He advanced on to third on a ground out and scored on a ground ball out by Conner Pohl.
Burhenn was gritty, continually pitching himself into trouble with the four walks. He pitched through a bases-loaded threat in the third, and again had runners in scoring position in the fifth when he retired the final out.
But Minnesota finally reached him in the sixth, after 102 pitches, and freshman Bayden Root was summoned to retire the final out and preserve the lead with runners at first and second and two outs. He could not – surrendering a run-scoring single to center field by pinch hitter Eduardo Estrada.
Root had his own issues in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with Gophers on a walk, a single and a hit batsman. And with two out center fielder Ben Mezzenga singled to center to drive in the go-ahead run…and only an outstanding play and throw from Ridge Winand to Dingler to knock off the runner from second prevented the Gophers from taking a two-run lead. The leadoff walk by Root to start the inning came back to haunt.
The Buckeyes retook the lead in the eighth. Matt Carpenter started the rally with a chop single over the third baseman’s head. Brady Cherry walked. Minnesota took down Max Meyer in place of reliever Brett Schulze, a right-hander, to face Conner Pohl. Pohl, who had struggled of late and was 0 for 3 in the game, ripped a hard single to center. It froze Carpenter at second who could not score and brought Dingler to plate with the bases loaded. The sophomore catcher chopped a grounder back through the middle to score Carpenter with the tying run on a fielder’s choice.
Then Brent Todys worked the count to 2-2 with two out, and a wild pitch from Schulze allowed Pohl to score from third with the go-ahead run, 4-3.
Too many free bases…a fact that Greg Beals has preached about all year long – four walks and four hit batsmen – and a hit batsman by reliever Andrew Magno to start the Gophers’ eighth put the lead in jeopardy. But Magno, who two weeks ago struck out eleven of twelve outs against Maryland, struck out Mezzenga to strand that runner at second base.
It bit them as Magno came back out for a six-out save in the ninth. He walked the leadoff hitter, Zack Raabe, and again a free base turned into a blown save as catcher Eli Wilson drove him in with a single to left to tie the score at 4-4.
In the bottom of the tenth pinch hitter Riley Smith reached first base with a one-out single. A wild pitch moved Smith to second base, another free base. A walk to Ben Mezzenga put runners at first and second with one out. Magno, with six decisions (3-3) and seven saves on the season, tried to bow his neck one more time. Minnesota put the double steal on, taking second and third and forcing Ohio State to load the bases with an intentional walk. It brought starting pitcher Max Meyer to the plate seeking to win it. But a 1-2-3 double play – Magno to Dingler to Pohl – killed the rally and sent the game to the 11th.
That play seemed to ignite a resolve in Magno, who would go on to pitch seven innings, through the 14th inning – four-hit baseball, on a day when he was far from perfect. The junior lefthander would throw 104 pitches, strike out 8, but walk as many, in an effort that could only be characterized by sheer guts!
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s bullpen was equally effective, limiting the Buckeyes to just 10 hits for the game, and just 4 over the final nine innings.
Freshman Will Pfennig would come on for the Buckeyes to start the 15th, and pitch into the 18th – 4 hits, 3 strikeouts and 3 walks. But in the 18th Pfennig hit Drew Hmielewski with one out to start what would become the game-winning rally. Jacob Hitz followed with a base hit, Zach Raabe would walk to load the bases, and designated hitter Gabe Knowles then singled to drive in Hmielewski with the winning run…5-4.
In the Big Ten’s longest game of the season, it was a gut-wrenching loss for the Buckeyes – exhausting – given both teams had so many opportunities to win the game.
The final line: Minnesota won it on 5 runs, 15 hits and one error. The Gophers left an astounding 27 men on base. Ohio State lost it with 4 runs on 10 hits and committed one error. The Buckeyes left 9 men on base, but the significant stat was again the issue of free bases – 15 walks. That, and 5 hours and 45 minutes of baseball!
In the oft-used words of Greg Beals, it signified the character of this young Buckeye team which could have easily folded its tent long before the 18th inning. As it was, the scheduled double-header was moved forward to Sunday due to the length of the game. It marked the longest game played by the Buckeyes in 15 years, surpassing a 16-inning game played back in 2004. Sunday’s start time is 11 am, Eastern time.
“You play 18 innings and play a five-hour plus ball game, you’re kind of waiting for something to happen,” Beals said afterwards. “I liked the fight we had and getting out of some bases-loaded jams. We created some opportunities for them with some free bases, but it’s a tough loss. Our guys spilled it today and I’m proud of that. We are going to get a good night sleep and come back here tomorrow.”
Minnesota moves to 9-7 in Big Ten play, while Ohio State falls to 7-9. Will Pfennig (0-3) took the loss while Minnesota’s Patrick Fredrickson was credited with the win.