MINNEAPOLIS, MN- A mere mortal might have suffered a letdown on Friday afternoon, given the circumstances.
How could a pitcher possibly come out and continue to dominate one week after the emotional high of pitching a perfect game, in a cavernous football stadium like US Bank Stadium, no less, all while going toe-to-toe with another quality arm in Michigan State’s Riley McCauley?
Of course, so far this season, DeMers has given us no reason to believe that he is, in fact, mortal.
Coming into Washington’s game against Michigan State, the middle game of Friday’s action at the DQ Baseball Classic in Minneapolis, the big righty had thrown 15 innings on the season, giving up all of three hits and no runs with three walks and 16 strikeouts, including that perfect game last time out against UC-Riverside.
It wasn’t quite a perfect game this time around, but DeMers was once again in the rocking chair for the Huskies for much of the game, showing, definitively, that there would be no perfect game hangover. All told, he threw 7.2 innings, giving up five hits and two runs (one earned) with no walks and five strikeouts, all on only 88 pitches.
“Joe’s such a humble guy that that didn’t enter my mind on his behalf,” Washington head coach Lindsey Meggs said of any possible letdown. “It was the other guys. I think we’re getting a little too comfortable with him on the mound. Instead of having some urgency about ‘hey, let’s get three (runs) and we can probably take care of business,’ we’re stuck on our heels at the plate and expect him to keep putting up zeroes. I’m not worried about Joe.”
Put a pin in that last thought from Meggs. We’ll revisit that later.
DeMers set down the Spartans in order in the first, second, fourth, fifth, and seventh innings, and just like in his perfect game last weekend, he was incredibly efficient in getting it done.
He recorded seven first-pitch outs, and retired a hitter in three or fewer pitches 17 times over the course of his start. Typically, you see pitchers that can dominate with big strikeout numbers at the cost of high pitch counts and then pitchers who can stay efficient by inducing soft contact early in the count at the cost of not being able to control the game with the strikeout, but DeMers is one of the rare pitchers who does both with aplomb.
“He’s Tyler Davis, who we had a couple of years ago and is in Double-A with the Rangers, with a better fastball,” said Meggs. “Tyler was mid-to-upper 80s, with outstanding command of a change and a slider. Joe is a little firmer than that, of course, and can also sink it when he needs to. He’s just somebody who can pitch backwards, throw four pitches, and it’s always fun to have him out there.”
Remember when Meggs mentioned that his team was a little too complacent with DeMers on the mound? That appeared to be the case on Friday afternoon. Not only did the offense struggle to get things going against Michigan State starter McCauley, a high-profile arm in his own right, but once the Huskies did manufacture a run in the top of the eighth, things went awry, with the defense helping to surrender the lead.
Zach Iverson, who had been a thorn in DeMers’s side all game long, got things going with a single, and after he was moved to second on a sac bunt, he scored on a single up the middle. That run was earned, but the next one wasn’t. The throw back into the infield on the Kelley single was errant, allowing him to get to second base. After Ryan King popped out for the second out, Kelley came around to score on an error by shortstop A.J. Graffanino on a hopper off the bat of Justin Antoncic, giving Michigan State a 2-1 lead.
As if that wasn’t enough back-and-forth, Washington came back in the top of the ninth with two runs on a Braiden Ward RBI double and a K.J. Brady sac fly, only to surrender the lead once again in the bottom half thanks to a Dan Chmielewski RBI double, tying the game 3-3.
In the tenth, Washington jumped back out ahead once again on an RBI double from Kaiser Weiss, and in the bottom of the tenth, despite the Spartans putting two runners on once again, Washington’s Stevie Emanuels held on to close out the 4-3 victory.
“It’s our second extra-inning win on the road, which is not easy to do,” said Meggs. “That in itself is something to build on, and if we can ever understand the rhythm of the game and just take better care of the ball and be better in the bunting game, I think it’ll open up some doors for us. If we can hang in there until then, we’re going to be fine.”
They say adversity builds character, and this win certainly wasn’t easy to come by for the Huskies. You go on the road to play in events like this to become battle-tested against quality opponents and to put your team in situations where they’ll be pushed. Washington got all of that and then some on Friday afternoon, got another quality start from Joe DeMers in the process, and came out with a win to top it off.