Cornell Baseball vs. The Pros: Back of the Bullpen
Cornell continued its strong start to the season by taking two of three games at the Spider Invitational. Both victories were low scoring affairs marked by excellent pitching. The Big Red did not hit particularly well in either matchup, but an excellent effort from the pitching staff kept the team in games when the offense faltered. While starting pitchers Justin Lewis and Paul Balestrieri were exceptional, what really stood out were the performances by Cornell relievers, as they proved to be crucial in both wins.
In the first victory against Campbell University, none of the Big Red’s relievers faced more than three batters. However, each pitcher was able to record important outs, including the final six to close out this tight matchup. With Cornell down 2-1, the game was hanging by a thread. But, freshman John Natoli was able to record a crucial out, senior Scott Soltis picked off the potential tying runner, and classmate Matt Horton was able to string together a good inning of work. When the pressure was high and the game was on the line, the Big Red bullpen delivered and gave the squad a chance to win it in the ninth. The offense duly accepted this opportunity, leading to a walk-off victory sealed by a bases loaded walk by senior second baseman Frankie Padulo.
In the second win at the Spider Invitational, Cornell played an even closer game, edging out Michigan State 2-1. The Big Red jumped out to an early 2-0 start, but was unable to extend this margin, and the lead was cut in half after the Spartans scored in the sixth inning. When Horton came in again, there were runners on first and second. After a nervous walk, he was able to settle his nerves and responded to a bases loaded jam by striking out the next two hitters swinging. Senior Peter Lannoo, Cornell’s primary closer, entered the game in the ninth and strongly earned his second save of the year.
The value of good set-up men and closers has also been apparent in the major leagues. When the Chicago Cubs finally broke their World Series drought in 2016, a crucial part of the team was flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs recognized that they needed a closer and traded away a solid starter and two other quality prospects just to acquire Chapman near the end of the season.
A similar instance occurred with the Cleveland Indians, who gave up their best prospect and three other promising pitchers to acquire Andrew Miller, another elite closer. Both of these teams competed in the 2016 MLB playoffs, and each closer had excellent set-up men that helped propel the clubs to a matchup in the World Series. Ultimately, the use of starting pitchers replaced set-up men in the later games of the series, but seeing the top managers risking the arms of their starting pitchers just to provide opportunities for their closers demonstrates the value of having a good back end to the bullpen.
Just like the majors, Cornell looks to have found a great set-up man in Horton and a reliable closer in Lannoo. Even though he was unable to close out the game against Richmond, with a strong bullpen, the Big Red are set for a good season.