LANSING, Mich. — With starting pitching like that of Michigan State, the Gophers baseball team couldn’t help but feast on it like a dinner at Old Country Buffet — at least for three games.
Minnesota’s bats came alive at Oldsmobile Park in downtown Lansing, scoring 33 runs over the first three games of the four-game series, en route to three straight wins.
But Sunday the buffet line was shut down, and so were the Gophers. And the pitching didn’t bail out Minnesota. The Gophers’ Chadd Clarey gave up eight runs — although only two were earned — in the first three innings as the Spartans cruised to the 9-7 win.
“I thought we played extremely well in the series,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “Michigan State made some mistakes on defense early and we took advantage of them. But Sunday we had a rough start and gave them back the momentum we had all series.”
The 3-1 weekend moved Minnesota’s Big Ten record to 15-5 (30-17 overall). But with Penn State’s sweep of Michigan, the Gophers fell out of first and are now just percentage points back in the standings.
The Gophers started the series off hot, getting big weekends at the plate from Josh Holthaus (7 for 13, 5 RBI) and Jeremy Negen (6 for 14, 6 RBI).
Another spark offensively came from shortstop Rick Brosseau. After batting just .207 in Minnesota’s first 16 Big Ten games, and an 0-for-5 showing in Friday’s game batting in the third spot, Anderson moved Brosseau to the leadoff spot.
He quickly answered, going 5 for 8 with five RBI in the doubleheader, leading the Gophers to wins of 16-2 and 7-5 on Saturday.
“I’ve been thinking about switching his spot in the order,” Anderson said. “Sometimes when guys are struggling, a move in the lineup will help them see the game differently.
“But you have to give him credit too. Rick made some adjustments.”
And while the Gophers got to Michigan State’s starters, scoring 24 runs in a combined 13 innings of the first three games, the Spartans couldn’t get to Minnesota’s starting staff.
The Gophers picked up where they left off against Iowa last Saturday by preventing the Spartans from doing any major damage at the plate.
Minnesota gave up more than two runs in an inning just once in its three wins. And that came in the final inning of game three, when the Spartans put four runs on the board to make the score a respectable 7-5 loss.
The threesome of Mike Kobow, Ben Birk and Kelly Werner gave up just six earned runs in 19 innings.
But then came the fourth game, where all that went right for Minnesota in the first three games turned ugly. The Gophers were brutal in the field, making five errors and handing the Spartans a 8-0 lead Minnesota couldn’t overcome. Only two of Clarey’s runs were earned.
“We gave up runs early. Clarey pitched well and didn’t deserve to be down,” Negen said. “We just gave them a few breaks.”
In fact, neither team helped themselves in the field during the series. A combined 17 errors, including four by Michigan State in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, made Oldsmobile Park look like it was hosting a tee-ball tournament.
“They made a lot of mistakes, which was fortunate for us early in the series,” Brosseau said. “But that turned on us the last game, when we made the errors and things didn’t go our way.”
The series with Michigan State ends the Gophers’ Big Ten road season with a very respectable mark of 9-3. Minnesota’s final eight conference games will be played at Siebert Field.
“If (they) had told me we would go 9-3 on the road before the season, I would have been happy,” Anderson said.
Happy for the play on the road, and happy they’ll be at home for the final eight.
John R. Carter covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]