Baseball, lest we forget in this age of rave, is a pastime.
A pastoral series of moments to be savored, then won, lost, survived.
Instances of engagement to be built upon, or having succumbed, to rue.
On a sultry Saturday at the Jim, two Top 20 outfits — Louisville, Virginia — both attempting to close out their regular campaigns with victory in a series then split, there was such a moment.
It evoked tension thick as the humidity.
The finale against Virginia started early in hopes of avoiding impending inclemency.
So too the Cardinals in a reversal of their early and fatal travails on Friday in a way-behind-from-the-get-go setback.
In the bottom of the first, Levi Usher knocked in a couple of Card baserunners with a two-out single. An inning later, Ben Bianco batted in Isaac Humphrey. Ben Metzinger went yard. Jack Payton also cleared the fence with a solo shot.
Thanks to that assault, and rookie starter Carson Liggett’s back to back scoreless frames, Louisville led 6-0.
As happens, the Cardinal bats quieted. The Cavalier’s stayed silent, thanks to the steadiness of reliever Tate Kuehner. For a bit anyway.
For the campaign’s first eight weekends, a starter, now performing out of the pen, Kuehner has been lights out.
In his last 12 innings toeing the rubber before Saturday — against Vandy, Wake Forest, Indiana, Virginia Tech, EKU — the junior from Iowa hadn’t surrendered a run.
Forcing grounders to fielders making the plays, Kuehner cruised through his first two innings on the mound.
Matters reversed in the 5th. It started, as it often does with a base on balls. Soon enough, UVa had ducks on the pond.
Two down. Bases full. Cardinal lead in peril.
At the plate: LF Alex Tappen. 13 homers, 69 RBIs to that singular, arguably season-invigorating moment for both schools.
The Cards had captured the long delayed series opener, 4-1, early Friday morning, in a game scheduled for a 4:00 p.m. first pitch. UVa throttled the home team 16-5 later that day.
This moment would inform who’d have Uncle Mo sitting in their dugout when the post-season starts in the league tourney.
For U of L it was arguably a more desperate situation, given how season last ended. Even with MLB’s #1 overall draft pick behind the plate, the Cards melted away ignominiously. Eleven losses in their final fifteen.
The playing field is vast. Nine players roam. While intertwined, it is an individual’s sport.
Thus baseball is essentially a lonely endeavor, especially its starting point, inning in inning out.
Hurler vs. Batter.
When it mattered, Kuehner went high heat. Tappen whiffed. Kuehner shrieked.
The moment of the game, perhaps the season should it spur Louisville forward, was won.
Kuehner’s shutout streak ended at 16 innings, when the Cavs plated a couple. ACC Atlantic Division champ #7 Louisville’s power kept Virginia’s measure the rest of the way. 11-3.
Post season hopes heighten.
— c d kaplan