Maryland baseball closer John Murphy entered in the eighth to stabilize what had quickly become a close game with Indiana trailing by two with runners on the corners and no outs.
Murphy’s curveball, a pitch he has struggled to control this season, helped him strike out the first two batters he faced. Then, Murphy hung a pitch to third baseman Luke Miller, who swung and then stared and admired his go-ahead home run to right field, flipping the contest on its head.
As the Hoosiers’ coaching staff discussed the plan for the following two-out at-bat with catcher Ryan Fineman, likely to allow first baseman and reliever Matt Lloyd time to warm up, Murphy waited. His next pitch sailed behind Fineman’s back, who took exception to it and took a couple of steps towards Murphy, who was ejected following the errant throw and subsequent words.
Maryland was asking for six outs from Murphy, the third pitcher used in the eighth. He only managed two before the Terps’ lead evaporated. The bullpen, a weakness all season, surrendered a four-run eighth to lose, 6-5, missing a key chance to go a game up on Michigan State for the final spot in the Big Ten tournament.
That shaky relief corps is part of the reason Maryland (24-28, 9-12 Big Ten) is now fighting for a backdoor entrance into the tournament field rather than the expected high conference finish.
With losses from Rutgers, Nebraska and Michigan State, the three teams the Terps were battling for the final spot of qualification, Thursday’s loss to the Hoosiers (35-15, 12-9) squandered a chance to separate themselves from the pack. Maryland still controls its own destiny, but will be without Murphy on Friday.
Maryland’s early reliance on its bullpen was a result of a two-hour weather delay that bumped starter Hunter Parsons after six innings. Parsons wasn’t at his best but limited Indiana to two runs on five hits.
Center fielder Zach Jancarski gave the Terps a lead with a two-run home run in the second inning and pounded his chest between first and second. It appeared as if upperclassmen like Jancarski — who hit .500 last weekend to set up Maryland’s Big Ten tournament hopes — would once again carry an underachieving team toward a significant win.
Runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings established a 5-2 Maryland lead, a cushion badly needed for the suspect bullpen.
But after right-hander Ryan Hill’s scoreless seventh, he walked the leadoff man in the eighth and was withdrawn following a single. Left-hander Grant Burleson lasted one batter, surrendering an RBI single to Lloyd.
Vaughn cut the damage there, as he did Sunday against Rutgers, when Hill had surrendered two ninth-inning scores. Murphy showed promise with two strikeouts to open his appearance, displaying a breaking ball that differed from the fastball-heavy approach he generally uses.
Here’s that interaction. Closer John Murphy is ejected. Left-hander Sean Fisher will enter. pic.twitter.com/2IobJ179Xk
— Andy Kostka (@afkostka) May 18, 2018
But as Miller paused to watch right fielder Marty Costes make a futile run back to the wall, Maryland’s lead disappeared, and with it, a chance to distance themselves from Michigan State in the hunt for a Big Ten tournament berth.