Baseball: Pitcher Luke Farrell's 9 innings, 9 strikeouts, lead Wildcats to victory at Wrigley Field
April 21, 2013
The moss-green scoreboard stares down from center field. The ivy, not yet lush and vital, scales the outfield walls. The third-base dugout reads “Chicago Cubs,” but purple flags with white “N”s wave from foul poles in left and right field and above the scoreboard in center.
This is Wrigley Field, which for one day was the home of the Northwestern Wildcats.
“Absolutely unbelievable,” coach Paul Stevens said of NU's first game in its new partnership with the Cubs. “The amount of people, the yelling, the screaming, the energy, the enthusiasm — I don’t know if it gets any better than what I just saw in the last few hours. I was absolutely mesmerized, and I know our guys were.”
From the first pitch, a fastball strike from NU starter Luke Farrell, the Cats made the Friendly Confines feel like theirs.
Farrell was the star of NU’s 6-0 victory over Michigan, hurling a complete-game shutout while striking out 9 and allowing 3 hits and no walks. When the senior blew his last pitch, a 93 mph heater, past the swinging bat of shortstop Travis Maezes, the Cats had a memorable victory at a historic venue, courtesy of a major-league performance from their starting pitcher.
“That was absolutely incredible,” Stevens said. “You guys saw a big-time performance. I don’t care if you’re watching Major League Baseball or college, or I’ve seen some Little League guys have some good days, but that was definitely awesome to watch.”
After a one-two-three first inning from Farrell, the Cats grabbed a run in their half of the frame. Batting with a runner on first base, NU’s third hitter, redshirt senior Zach Morton, lashed a double down the third-base line, scoring junior Kyle Ruchim from first. Morton said he was nervous taking the field, even if his play didn’t show it.
“I don’t know how the first at-bat went,” the second baseman said. “I don’t even remember it. It was great, just to be out here, running onto the field every time.”
Two innings later, Morton struck again with another RBI double, this one plating redshirt senior Trevor Stevens. The next batter, senior Jack Havey doubled to right, trading places with Morton, and the Cats led 3-0.
Meanwhile, Farrell was dealing.
The senior right-hander didn’t allow a base runner until the fifth inning, when he ceded a leadoff single. Farrell erased that runner with a double play two batters later, then retired all six batters in the sixth and seventh before finally running into trouble in the eighth.
With one out, Michigan’s Zach Zott singled to left field, then advanced to second on a bunt single by Kevin White. When the runners advanced to second and third on a pitch in the dirt, Farrell faced his only jam of the evening.
However, he rose to the occasion. The senior fanned Jack Sexton on an off-speed floater, then reared back and fired a strike-three fastball by Cole Martin to end the threat, with much of the announced attendance of 4,197 standing and cheering.
“It’s a lot of fun pitching in front of big crowds,” Farrell said. “That might be the best I’ve ever thrown. No better place to do it.”
NU widened its lead in its half of the eighth, with a 3-run rally featuring 3 hits and 2 walks. Again, Morton was central to the run-scoring, leading off with a single and scoring the inning’s first run.
“You just saw why he was All-Big Ten (in 2010),” Stevens said of the second baseman. “He’s a heck of a player. … Pitching, defense or swinging the bat, that young man is a heck of an athlete.”
In the ninth, Farrell finished as strong as he began, his 90th and final pitch as fast as any before it.
The Cats, who were rained out Friday, played a double-header with Michigan on Sunday, losing the first game 5-0 but winning the second game 3-2 on a walk-off error in the 10th inning. Despite Sunday’s drama, it’s Saturday at Wrigley that will linger in the players’ memories.
Talking to the media after his big under-the-lights performance, Farrell stared around the park, ignored a reporter's question and said something everyone involved echoed: “This has been a really fun night.”