Luis Alvarado was drenched with water or Gatorade – or maybe both, it wasn’t clear – by teammates following Nebraska’s 7-6 victory against Rutgers on Sunday at Hawks Field.
Luke Roskam was the first, dumping an orange tub of liquid on him.
Minutes later, Alvarado quoted Hall of Famer Yogi Berra: “You can’t think and hit at the same time.”
By his own admission, Alvarado has been struggling of late at-bat. He only thinks about such things when he’s in the dugout, however, never at the plate.
“I haven’t been hitting the ball at all, good swings,” the Husker junior said. “I wasn’t feeling myself, but that at-bat . . . I was just trying to put the ball in play and see what happened.
“And (in) the end, it worked out.”
The count was 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the score tied at 6. Scott Schreiber, who had singled to lead off the inning, was at second base following Brison Cronenbold’s one-out sacrifice bunt. Alvarado, who was 2-for-12 in the series to that point, with five strikeouts and one walk, lined the ball into left center field.
Schreiber was moving on the pitch and never hesitated at third base.
The walk-off was the first of Alvarado’s career, at any level. “It’s an amazing feeling, stepping on first and knowing we won the game, seeing the guy scoring and seeing all the guys coming on the field to celebrate, and for the people, for the fans,” he said. “It just felt amazing.”
It also put Nebraska into first place in the Big Ten. The Huskers are 12-5-1, a winning percentage of .694. Maryland, which lost two-of-three over the weekend at Illinois, and Minnesota, which swept three games against Penn State, are tied for second with winning percentages of .667.
That Nebraska would need Alvarado’s game-winner seemed unlikely after seven innings. The Huskers led 6-2, and starter Jake Meyers appeared to have Rutgers’ hitters in check. But an error and three hits, the third a three-run home run into a strong wind blowing in from right field by Tom Marcinczyk, tied the score and gave the Scarlet Knights an emotional boost.
Marcinczyk was to be Meyers’ last batter, left-handed pitcher against left-handed batter.
“I mean, look at the guy at the plate; he’s hitting .170 against lefties and hitting .380 against righties,” said Erstad. “So it’s like, ‘We’ve got our guy on the mound. It’s his game. Let’s go.’ I don’t think I saw a homer into the wind happening. But that guy can hit. He’s got power.
“And so what? It happens . . . if you want to blame anybody, blame me. I made the decision (to leave him in). Hey, there’s no second-guessing in baseball. You do what you trust, your gut. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. I’m going with our dude on the mound. Our dude’s No. 4.”
Meyers wears a No. 4 jersey. The dude endures . . .
But that’s another story. Chad Luensmann, No. 13, finished out.
Nebraska was opportunistic, as it was throughout the series. Three of its runs were unearned, the result of two Rutgers’ errors. The Scarlet Knights committed eight during the series.
“Hey, baseball, you’re going to see a bunch of crazy stuff. It’s hard to win. Baseball’s hard, man. Our guys kept fighting, took a big punch there, could’ve been a knockout blow and kept it together and found a way,” Erstad said of Rutgers’ four-run eighth.
“Alvarado, I mean, that guy really, quite honestly, doesn’t know what he’s doing at the plate right now. He doesn’t feel very good. And to stay disciplined and keep battling and keep fighting, you get rewarded when you do that. That was a big knock.”
Erstad often talks of baseball as if it were a living, breathing entity.
“You’re at the mercy of the game,” he said. “When it decides it wants you not to feel good at the plate, it’s going to do that to you. So you just embrace it and then, you know, in those moments you scratch and claw for everything you get.”
Do those things and “you get rewarded,” said Erstad.
That’s what Alvarado did. And he was rewarded, as well as drenched.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.