ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich had a tough decision to make Tuesday: Who should he start in Game 2 of the national championship series and who should he save for a possible Game 3?
Bakich decided to piece together the second game of the series, and Michigan ultimately lost for the first time in the College World Series.
Not many people are second-guessing Bakich's decision because he's earned the benefit of the doubt by taking the Wolverines to the championship series. There's still confusion over why he wouldn't go for the win in Game 2, though.
Yes, Michigan probably would have had a better chance to win Tuesday if starters Jeff Criswell and Karl Kauffmann pitched. But after the Wolverines won Game 1 of the series, Bakich had the luxury of choosing which of the final two games he wanted to go for.
While he wasn't conceding Game 2 by any means, he knew that with star freshman Kumar Rocker starting for Vanderbilt, he might be better served saving his best players.
Think of it this way: If it had used Criswell and Kauffmann on Tuesday against Rocker, Michigan might have had something like a 40% chance to win Game 2. Then, without those pitchers available for Game 3, they might have had, say, a 50% chance to win Game 3.
Since Michigan didn't need to win both games, Bakich decided to give his team the best single-game odds, which were never going to come in Game 2 with Rocker pitching.
So now, maybe Michigan's chances in Game 2 dropped to 25% by using bullpen pitchers. The chance to win Game 3, though, with Criswell, Kauffmann and no Rocker, might rise to somewhere around 65%.
These percentages are just arbitrary examples to prove a point. While both scenarios -- 40% plus 50% and 25% plus 65% -- average out to give Michigan about a 45% chance to win, the second scenario certainly gives the Wolverines the best chance to win a single game.
Pitching Criswell and Kauffmann in Game 2 would give Michigan a better chance to win both Game 2 and Game 3. Saving them gives Michigan the best chance to win one out of two, which is all it needs.
Bakich could afford to put all his chips on the table for Game 3 because his team won Game 1.
Obviously there are other factors to consider. Michigan was going into Tuesday with a 4-0 record in the College World Series, and now it will have to bounce back from a loss. Vanderbilt will have the momentum.
Michigan will also be playing without the luxury of having a game to lose. Will that pressure get to the players? Bakich knows his team better than anybody and that obviously wasn't a concern.
Kauffmann also received an extra day of rest, and though he still isn't on his regular schedule, he should be able to go several innings if needed.
If Michigan drops Game 3, there will be fans who wonder if Bakich made the wrong decision. But considering the offense only scored one run in Game 2, the Wolverines likely wouldn't have won no matter who was on the mound.
It's Bakich's job to try to win a national championship, not win a national championship in two games. With Criswell and Kauffmann available Wednesday, the Wolverines have a better chance than if they had pitched in a loss Tuesday.
Bakich got Michigan to a place Big Ten teams rarely reach, and if he can pull off one more win, it would be one of the best stories in program history.
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