With runners on second and third and nursing a 2-0 lead in the 8th inning, Tracy Smith turned, as he so often and brilliantly does, to his best bullpen arm with the game hanging in the balance. Far too often, managers reserve their closers to pitch the ninth inning and it drives me absolutely bonkers. The closer is your best bullpen arm and night-in, night-out, managers save them for the ninth inning when the game could very well be won or lost long before then. It's another reason I love Tracy Smith: his best relievers pitch the toughest situations, regardless if a "save" is on the line or not.
So here was Ryan Halstead, needing to get one out to end the Musketeer threat and, as he so often and brilliantly does, induced a weak groundball, this time back towards the third base side of the pitching mound. Halstead raced toward the ball, preparing to make an inning-ending out at first base; but as he reached down to grab the ball, his knee gave way and Indiana's most prolific closer in their history crumpled to the ground, screaming in agony. The observations from those in attendance were chilling and while they could only speculate as to what the injury was, we've all seen how this show ends. Halstead was carted off the field and was replaced by Luke Harrison, who got the batter to flyout, limiting Xavier's damage to the one run they scored when Halstead was hurt.
Harrison pitched a perfect ninth to preserve the 2-1 victory, which saw RBIs by Casey Rodrigue and Nick Ramos and evened up Indiana's record to 5-5, neither of these being the story of the evening, sadly. It's important to point out that news of Halstead's injury has not been officially confirmed by the University, but two tweets from Tracy Smith and Aaron Fitt of Baseball America seem to confirm what we feared along:
Rotten news for Indiana: RHP Ryan Halstead is out for the year with a torn ACL. They stillwater Effross in pen, but Halstead was a key piece— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) March 7, 2014
Ryan Halstead is a strong individual. It's a setback for him for sure, but something tells me this won't be the last time you hear his name.— Tracy Smith (@HoosierBaseball) March 7, 2014
The Hoosiers have a strong bullpen, but as any person who likes to spew out baseball aphorisms will tell you: you can't have too much good pitching. The loss of Ryan Halstead will be a blow but if anyone is prepared to handle the loss of a closer, it's Indiana. Scott Effross becomes the obvious heir to the 9th inning throne and the workload trickles down from there.
That said, your heart absolutely breaks for a guy like Halstead, who is not only a tremendous talent but a senior who turned down a chance at the Show last year to come back to IU for his final season. Thankfully, the sheer size of the MLB Draft should still get him a spot somewhere if a team is willing to wait on his recovery. An ACL is not nearly as career threatening as an injury to his pitching arm, but that's hardly any consolation at the moment.
This weekend, the Hoosiers travel to Jacksonville for a three game set against the Jacksonville University Dolphins. The games are only available to be streamed via radio on the Indiana University Athletics website.
UPDATE: It's all official now.
Ryan Halstead will undergo season-ending knee surgery. Get well soon, big fella.— Indiana Baseball (@IUBaseballNews) March 7, 2014