A Georgia baseball game is a nerve-wracking thing; even when the Diamond Dogs are doing well, the thought lingers in the back of your mind that, somehow, some way, the Red and Black are going to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Friday evening's road game at McKethan Stadium was no exception.
For instance, I found no comfort whatsoever in the fact that the Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead over the Gators in Gainesville in the top of the first inning. Jonathan Wyatt drew a leadoff walk and Joey Side, batting in the second spot in the lineup, brought the Georgia left fielder home with a triple.
A Gordon Beckham single then plated Side and, later in the inning, a Jason Jacobs double brought Josh Morris home, as well. While a three-run lead ought to make a fan feel good, I couldn't help thinking that there was a lot of baseball left to be played and that a trio of runs just didn't feel like enough.
The fact that Joey Side and Matthew Dunn were left stranded on the basepaths in the second stanza did nothing to assuage my fears, nor, for that matter, did the unearned run scored by the Diamond Dogs in the top of the sixth.
Even the start of the seventh inning did not make me feel better, despite the fact that Wyatt led off with a walk and Side put a two-run shot in the cheap seats to put a sixth Red and Black run on the scoreboard.
Still, if I wasn't going to take solace in the Bulldogs' performance at the plate, surely I should have felt good about what the Diamond Dogs were doing defensively.
When Florida right fielder Brian Leclerc led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a single, it represented just the Gators' fourth hit of the night off of Georgia starting pitcher Mickey Westphal. The next three U.F. batters (Greg Quatrino, Austin Pride, and Adam Davis) all registered flyouts, allowing Westphal to leave the mound with eight frames of shutout ball beneath his belt.
To the ninth the Bulldogs went, nursing a 6-0 lead in a game that I could not help but consider a nailbiter. Gator reliever J.K. LaCoste took over the hurling duties and his first pitch produced a Matthew Dunn groundout.
Kyle Keen came in to pinch hit for Wyatt and he took a 3-2 pitch down the right field line for a triple. Side made something of the Diamond Dogs' ninth hit of the night by tacking on a tenth with a double to right field, plating Keen for an insurance run to make it a 7-0 ballgame going into the bottom of the ninth frame. Needless to say, I was sweating bullets.
Westphal remained on the mound for the Red and Black and he opened the inning by facing Florida's Brian Jeroloman, who may or may not have been one of the less favored kings of Israel listed in the Old Testament. In any event, the Gator catcher drove the second pitch of the inning down the right field line for a double and I thought to myself that the rally was underway.
Matt LaPorta grounded out on the very next pitch, but, before I could take even an iota of comfort in that fact, David Cash put a single where the shortstop should have been, registering his third hit, and the Gators' sixth, of the night. Was this, I wondered, where the wheels would begin to come off?
My blood pressure decreased slightly---but only slightly---when Gavin Dickey struck out swinging, leaving two men out and two men on for Brandon McArthur as he stood in against Westphal.
The Georgia pitcher, looking to record his 27th out for the complete game shutout victory, threw ball one . . . then ball two . . . then McArthur swung at Westphal's third pitch . . . and popped up to the shortstop, who was in position to end the inning and the game.
My fears were for naught, at least for now. The Diamond Dogs needed a conference win and they got it in convincing fashion.
Since the Red and Black seem to play better baseball when I'm being pessimistic than they do when I'm being optimistic, I will continue to be down on the squad for the sake of the team, but, if I didn't have an incentive to feel badly about the remainder of the campaign, I might start to feel positively about it, in spite of myself.