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2011-05-08

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On baseball: So close, but so far

By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 8, 2011

If you hold up your thumb and index finger and separate them by just a meager half-inch and say, “That close,” you may just be referring to the Michigan baseball team.

To say the Wolverines have been a letdown would be drastically understating the situation in Ann Arbor.

The fact of the matter is, Michigan — at 15-31 this season — isn’t that good. But neither is the Big Ten, where the Wolverines currently reside in last place, despite being just two games out of the sixth place needed to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.

So how can a team that’s lost over 67 percent of its games be that close?

Well, it starts and ends with a single inning — the ninth inning of Saturday’s 11-10 loss to Minnesota — that fills in all the blanks, while at the same time, acting as a microcosm for Michigan’s season.

The inning began with the Wolverines trailing, 9-4, in another lackluster performance both offensively and defensively, much like Michigan has played all year.

Redshirt sophomore Chad Jasman was given the ball to pitch the ninth — just his second appearance this season. Why Jasman?

Rewind to two months ago to when the Wolverines lost senior pitchers Kolby Wood and Travis Smith from the three-man rotation. They learned of their season-ending injuries within a week of each other.

From there, fast forward to two weeks ago, when another starting pitcher — sophomore Kyle Clark — dropped furniture on his hand while helping a friend move, ending his season as well.

Because of the injuries to the starters, relievers were forced to make starts this past weekend and in the two midweek games, shrinking Michigan coach Rich Maloney’s choices to come out of the bullpen. Enter Jasman.

Jasman gave up two runs to put a seemingly out-of-reach game even more out of reach, especially with the way the Wolverines have been hitting this year.

But then the Wolverines suddenly found out that bats are indeed for hitting baseballs and that base runners shouldn’t be left on base. And in just one inning, Michigan nearly doubled its average runs per game with a six-run ninth.

But six runs gave the Wolverines 10, and since the Golden Gophers had 11, it meant another heartbreaking one-run loss for Michigan — just like the two one-run losses last weekend at Ohio State.

As the one-run losses rack up, it’s hard not to think about the slim two-game margin between where the Wolverines currently stand and where they need to be to reach the postseason.

In disappointing seasons, it’s a natural reaction to proclaim that anything positive will be the turning point. And I’m as guilty as they come in that regard.

If a six-run inning had turned into a seven-run comeback, it would’ve been special. It would’ve carried over to Sunday. And for one last time, it would have been declared a turning point.

If ...

But in the simplest terms, it would’ve given Michigan just one more win and one less game back of qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament, where anything can happen. With the conference standings as close as they are, that one game could easily turn a trip to the postseason into an early summer vacation.

An inning that began with a game so out of reach became that close.

And in a year where everything was that close, Michigan looks like it will fall just short.