The bat flip debate: either yes, players should celebrate thunderous home runs without retaliation, or no, that's too excessive, perhaps even disrespectful. Kentucky baseball's Hunter Gilliam evidently doesn't agree with the latter. Neither does Indiana's head coach Jeff Mercer.
Gilliam admired his 413-foot, three-run home run against Indiana baseball Tuesday afternoon, capping off Kentucky's six-run sixth inning to lead 11-2. An inning later, Kentucky's walk-off base hit run-ruled Indiana 12-2 at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington.
Gilliam, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association National Hitter of the Week, spun his bat in the air like some rotating baton, at the midpoint between home plate and first base.
When the senior infielder crossed home, Gilliam and Indiana senior catcher Matthew Ellis appeared to jeer at each other, though it didn't escalate. Mercer didn't see that conversation, but he made his stance on the bat-flip clear.
"Don't put yourself in that position," Mercer said postgame. "They have the right to celebrate how they want to celebrate. ... All I know is that we didn't play well. And when someone does that, if you don't play well, you get what you deserve. And today, we deserved to get our butt kicked."
Indiana starter, graduate right-hander Gabe Levy, began the game by retiring the first three batters he faced. In the second inning, however, an infield error was followed by two hit batters and an illegal move on the mound that permitted the third-base runner to score.
Indiana senior infielder Phillip Glasser compensated for his previous error by turning an inning-ending unassisted double play, snagging the sharply hit ball up the middle. That abruptly slowed down Kentucky's lineup, yet the Wildcats had already gone up 3-0.
"For whatever reason, the games, the travel, the cold, doesn't really matter, we just didn't play very well," Mercer said. "That's frustrating. Routine errors, that error to start second inning, we veered off course, from who we throw, what we do, how we manage the rest of the game."
On Tuesday, five of Indiana's seven pitchers hit at least one batter, totaling six. The pitching staff equally walked six batters — 12 free baserunners. Certainly, it can't be easy to command pitches in the stinging cold weather. There have been few times this season when Indiana's pitching staff snowballed runs in an inning. Mercer also had to preserve arms.
“It was an anomaly,” Mercer said. “I'm not I'm not thrilled about it. With our series this weekend getting moved up to Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, we're a little bit limited in what we can do. ... Sometimes baseball is, just one of those days, right. ... The group has done a really good job throughout the course of the year."
The Hoosiers split their two runs between the third and fourth inning. Indiana placed runners on the corners with no outs in the third, yet could only bring across one run. In the fourth, freshman outfielder Devin Taylor doubled to right field and was driven in by Ellis, who’s hometown is in Kentucky. The catcher’s double one-hopped the left field wall.
Entering Tuesday, Ellis had just two extra-base hits in 39 at-bats. That was the only time Indiana recorded a hit with runners in scoring position, going 1-for-6 compared to Kentucky's 5-for-11. Then compare Indiana's 12 free bases allowed to Kentucky's three. Finally, compare Indiana's four total hits to Gilliam's three — with a game-high five runs batted in.
To reiterate Mercer's statement: "We deserved to get our butt kicked."
But he also said "Sometimes baseball is, just one of those days, right."
Kentucky had entered Tuesday on a 10-game winning streak. Indiana hasn't lost at home this season — perfect 7-0. Following this past weekend’s four-game sweep over Bellarmine University, the Hoosiers play Morehead State University at home Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday's first pitch is set for 4:30 p.m.