Iowa baseball: Tyler Cropley's walk-off homer gives Hawkeyes series win over Michigan
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa moved its series finale with Michigan to 11 a.m., but the early start time hardly deterred the Hawkeye faithful. With Rick Heller’s squad dressed in the pristine Sunday gold, another quality crowd piled into Duane Banks Field and brought the noise.
The Hawkeyes, after Saturday’s dud, delivered a resilient rebound.
Tyler Cropley’s two-run walk-off homer in the ninth handed Iowa a 7-5 win and a series victory over the Wolverines, capping a seven-run rally. The Hawkeyes (26-14, 9-7 Big Ten) clawed out of an early 5-0 hole and capped an energetic weekend with their third walk-off bomb this year.
“We’re going to battle adversity all year,” Cropley said. “It was just another day, it seemed like. Getting down five early, we knew with the wind blowing out that everything was going to happen.”
Getting there involved a peculiar ninth. With two outs and Ben Norman on second as the winning run, Cropley popped one shortly up the first base line.
Pitcher and catcher converged. The ball dropped. Norman raced home. Iowa stormed out of the dugout and chased Cropley into right field, thinking it had walked off.
But the home-plate umpire had inadvertently ruled the ball fair before it bounced foul without being touched. Everyone reset.
Cropley fouled a pitch straight back, then walked it off for real.
“What happened to him,” Heller said, “where we had the celebration and then get called back — and you have to go to the batter’s box with two strikes facing a guy like that — to get your heart rate back down and to be able to do what he did is pretty phenomenal.
“That shows you a lot about the toughness and the makeup of Tyler.”
Iowa needed that grit from the jump. The Hawkeyes’ unimpressive showing in Saturday’s 10-2 loss spilled over early into Sunday, as the Wolverines (25-13, 12-2) pounced on starter Cole McDonald with five runs in the first two innings.
Dominic Clementi turned two soft singles into a loud opening frame, clubbing a three-run homer to left. Michigan added two more in the second off McDonald, who yielded more runs Sunday than he had in his previous three starts combined.
The right-hander’s day took an even more disheartening turn with two outs in the fourth. McDonald began shaking his arm after striking out catcher Harrison Salter, then showed even more discomfort on the ensuing pitch to shortstop Jack Blomgren.
Heller made a mound visit and eventually pulled McDonald, who has already undergone one Tommy John surgery while in high school.
“Our trainer checked him,” Heller said, “and (the discomfort) is not in a great spot, but he thought it felt pretty stable. We’re going to get him in to see Dr. Wolf, and we really won’t know anything until we get an MRI.
“… With the Tommy John guys, the scar tissue will sometimes break loose and stuff like that. That’s all we can kind of hope for at this point. He hurt it on the pitch he struck (Salter) out, and it looked like it was a changeup the next pitch (to Blomgren). And that was the fastball. So it was pretty scary.”
Even with such a demoralizing twist, the Hawkeyes didn’t wilt. With the deficit down to 5-3 thanks to Austin Guzzo’s two-run homer in the third, Iowa desperately needed length — and zeroes — from its bullpen.
Nick Nelsen first answered the call, wiggling out of two messes for 1 1/3 scoreless frames. Zach Daniels then displayed his filth.
Despite working two innings Friday, Iowa’s de-facto closer ripped off four impressive frames in his longest outing of the year. Daniels punched out six and yielded only two hits, tossing 99 combined pitches on the weekend.
“(Heller) asked me how many I could go and how my arm felt,” Daniels said, “but last year, I was kind of big in that three- to five-inning range, so it didn’t really bother me too much. Just wanted to come in and keep the game close, honestly.”
The Hawkeyes trailed by just a run when Chris Whelan took his turn with the outward-blowing wind, launching a game-tying solo homer in the seventh.
Iowa cracked the door open in the ninth after a Kyle Crowl throwing error put the go-ahead run in scoring position. With two down, the Hawkeyes opted to walk righty Jonathan Engelmann for the lefty Jesse Franklin, who had two hits Sunday and leads Michigan in homers.
The move worked. Franklin flied harmlessly to right to end the threat.
“My changeup was getting good depth,” Daniels said. “The lefties weren’t seeing it as well, so (Iowa pitching coach) Desi (Druschel) just felt comfortable going with him than Engelmann.
“It didn’t really matter to me, as long as I could get out of that inning.”
Entrenched in maybe its toughest stretch this season, Sunday’s win could loom larger in a month or so. The Hawkeyes now have series wins against three of the other five Big Ten teams realistically vying for a regional berth (Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan).
With five home games this week — postseason contender Missouri on Tuesday, Western Illinois on Wednesday and potential regional host Oklahoma State over the weekend — solid crowds should continue in Iowa City.
Sunday’s contingent got its money's worth. Cropley made sure they went home happy.
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.