A rare off night from Tony Rizzotti kept the Tulane baseball team from its first four-game winning streak of the season.
Rizzotti, who entered with a 1.83 earned run average, pitched into trouble in the first four innings as the Green Wave lost to Houston 4-3 on an unseasonably cold Friday night at Turchin Stadium.
The Cougars scored a run in each of those innings, and it could have been worse for the Wave without the help of some base-running mistakes. Houston made outs at second and third base when players came off the bag after sliding in safely, and Tulane’s Andrew Garner nailed another runner at the plate with a throw from right field.
Twelve of the first 17 batters Rizzotti (5-4) faced reached base. He threw 87 pitches, gave up seven hits, walked four and allowed four runs, leaving midway through Houston’s leadoff at-bat in the fifth inning with tightness in his lower back after Tulane athletic trainer Andy Massey went to the mound to check on him. It was his shortest outing of the year in terms of innings.
“Tony did not have his best stuff early,” Tulane coach Rick Jones said. “It was just a frustrating loss losing a one-run ball game like this. We’ve had that happen quite a bit.”
Tulane (23-23, 7-9 Conference USA), which had won three in a row for only the second time, fell to seventh place in the league. Houston (29-17, 8-8) snapped a five-game conference losing streak.
While the Cougars lost three runners on the base paths, the biggest drama came after Tulane’s Richard Carthon was thrown out at the plate to end the third inning while trying to score from first on a double by Nick DiMaggio. Carthon objected when catcher Caleb Barker dropped the ball on his chest after showing it to the umpire.
He took some steps toward Barker, and players from both teams ran out of their dugouts yelling at each other.
No punches were thrown, but Barker was ejected, forcing the Cougars to insert seldom-used backup Daniel Smith in his place.
“I didn’t get a clear view of that,” Jones said. “All I know is they threw him (Barker) out of the game, which means he’s suspended for tomorrow (by NCAA rule).”
Smith’s two passed balls helped Tulane cut its deficit to 4-2 in the fourth, but the Green Wave came no closer. Brennan Middleton and Bowen Woodson flew out to end the inning with runners on first and second.
Houston thought it had two insurance runs in the seventh when Michael Pyeatt hit a shot down the left-field line that got past a sliding Carthon. The ball rolled toward a tarp, and Carthon could not find the ball as Justin Montemayor scored from first and Pyeatt circled the bases. After a long discussion — one of several that featured both coaches coming out of the dugout for explanations — the umpires ruled it a ground-rule double, forcing Montemayor back to third and Pyeatt to second.
“It got caught in the padding, which has never happened since I’ve been here,” Jones said. “They just wanted to make sure that they all saw it, and they got the call right.”
Tulane reliever Kyle McKenzie stranded them there by getting two straight outs, and the Wave pulled within 4-3 with three consecutive hits in the bottom of the seventh.
Tulane’s Sean Potkay chased Houston starter Daniel Poncedeleon (6-4) with a one-out double in the eighth, but reliever Chase Wellbrock stranded him at second. Wellbrock retired the Wave in order in the ninth for his eighth save.
“I felt like when we got out of that (overturned inside-the-park home run), it put us in position where we could really do something,” Jones said. “We just couldn’t come up with a big hit.”
Carthon, DiMaggio and Garner all had two hits as Tulane outhit Houston 10-9. The teams play again at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m definitely really disappointed,” DiMaggio said. “It’s a game we definitely could have won and wanted to win badly. I’m just really excited about tomorrow.”