The Diamond Dogs carried a seven-game winning streak into their series-deciding showdown with Georgia Tech on Thursday, which provided the Red and Black with momentum yet gave me heartburn.
As nerve-wracking as it was to watch the Bulldogs lose, it has been even more worrisome seeing Georgia win, as each victory raises the stakes for the next game. While the outcome of the final regular-season outing against the Yellow Jackets would have no impact upon the conference standings, it was a rivalry game against a ranked opponent and no one wanted to see the wind taken out of the Diamond Dogs' sails.
It's Georgia versus Georgia Tech. That's all you need to know. (Photograph courtesy University of Georgia Athletic Association.)
I was, therefore, somewhat pleased when Georgia's Jason Leaver surrendered only a base hit to the Ramblin' Wreck's Matt Wieters but otherwise escaped the first inning unscathed on the stat sheet, whereas a Joey Side triple in the bottom of the frame opened the door for an R.B.I. single by Gordon Beckham to stake the Bulldogs to an early lead.
Undaunted, Georgia Tech's Whit Robbins opened the second stanza with a single to center, which caused me some concern. Fortunately, a Luke Murton flyout and a Wally Crancer strikeout failed to advance the baserunner, who was caught stealing for the third out.
In the second half of the second inning, the Golden Tornado's Lee Hyde induced a pair of groundouts by Jason Jacobs and Kyle Keen, but the Yellow Jacket pitcher's mastery of opposing batters with double initials ended when Ryan Peisel strode to the plate and put a pitch into right field for a single.
Lex Luthor, like most of the women in Superman's life, would have had little luck getting a base hit off of Lee Hyde.
Perhaps in an effort to show the opposition how it was done, Peisel stole second base, after which Matthew Dunn walked and an error by Georgia Tech catcher Andy Hawranick moved both Bulldogs up one base. Alas, Jonathan Wyatt failed to capitalize on the opportunity, striking out swinging and causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part.
The third inning began with a pitching change, as Adam McDaniel served as the reliever for Leaver. A Mike Trapani walk was all the Ramblin' Wreck had to show for the opening half of the frame, and, in the bottom of the inning, Jared Hyatt came on to pitch for Hyde. Hyatt surrendered a Beckham single, a stolen base, and a Josh Morris home run to give Georgia a 3-0 advantage one-third of the way through regulation play.
After being relieved by Hyatt, Hyde went and hung out in the Foremans' basement with Eric, Fez, and Kelso.
A leadoff walk by Wieters got the fourth frame underway. Jeff Kindel singled to left to move the runner over to second and Robbins singled to right to advance the Georgia Tech designated hitter to third. A sacrifice fly by Murton cut the Bulldogs' lead to two runs at the halfway point of the inning.
Peisel reached first on an error and stole second in the bottom of the fourth, but the Red and Black third baseman's efforts went for naught, being bracketed as they were by another Yellow Jacket pitching change and called third strikes to Keen, Dunn, and Wyatt.
By this point, the game was sufficiently stressful that I was not in need of additional causes for concern. Nevertheless, the Golden Tornado had other ideas, as Jason Fellows came on to pitch for the Classic City Canines following a Trapani base hit to left.
A Steven Blackwood double allowed the Georgia Tech second baseman to proceed to third base, from which a Wieters R.B.I. groundout scored him. The Yellow Jackets now led the Bulldogs in hits (6-5) and trailed on the scoreboard by a lone run (3-2) at the halfway mark.
Obligatory photograph of Mary-Louise Parker.
The Diamond Dogs went quietly in the bottom of the fifth frame and the base hit with which Robbins commenced the sixth inning was squandered by the next three Ramblin' Wreck batters, each of whom recorded an out.
Bobby Felmy began the Bulldogs' half of the inning by being hit by a pitch, whereupon Brad Rulon succeeded Tim Ladd on the mound for Georgia Tech and persuaded Jacobs to ground into a double play. Keen flied out harmlessly to right field to conclude the sixth stanza on a sour note.
The Yellow Jackets went back to work. Michael Fisher opened the seventh inning with a walk, but he was out at second one batter later when Trapani reached first on a fielder's choice. Blackwood flied out to bring Wieters to the plate with a man on first.
The Georgia Tech D.H. proceeded to record his second, and his team's eighth, hit of the night, punching in a right field single to move Trapani to second and mount a serious scoring threat. Fortunately for the integrity of my stomach lining, Kindel put a loud out into center field to squelch the nascent rally.
This pastoral expanse of lush green . . . this majestic home to athletic excellence and reminder of our nation's more innocent past . . . this absolutely maddening doggone game!
My anxiety was soothed somewhat by Peisel's double to lead off the second half of the seventh. After Ryan Turner took the mound as the fifth Golden Tornado hurler of the evening, Dunn laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Peisel to third and Wyatt did the same to bring the Georgia third baseman home.
The Diamond Dogs carried a 4-2 lead into the eighth frame and assigned the pitching duties to Trevor Holder, who got Robbins to strike out looking and Murton to strike out swinging before surrendering a double to Crancer.
To my great distress, Hawranick stood in as the potential tying run. To my great relief, Holder held and the Yellow Jacket catcher grounded out to short. To my renewed aggravation, the Bulldogs went hitless in the bottom of the eighth.
To the final regularly-scheduled frame we went with the outcome decidedly in doubt. Fisher opened the proceedings by lining out to second base, then my fears proved to be well founded, as Trapani reached on an error and Blackwood took advantage of the mistake, belting a home run down the left field line to plate a pair of runs, tie the contest, and bring on Stephen Dodson to pitch in place of Holder.
If no one else will say it, I will: Turner Field is bad luck for the home team!
Wieters and Kindel recorded the final two outs, but the damage had been done and the bottom of the ninth inning became not just obligatory, but imperative. Jacobs flied out to left, Matt Robbins pinch hit for Keen and struck out looking, and Peisel flied out to right to send the contest to extra innings and my blood pressure to soaring heights.
As the tenth inning got underway, it occurred to me, in the midst of my angst, that there was no good result at this point. While winning certainly would be better than losing, the outcome of the contest largely was inconsequential except as a point of pride; the game wouldn't count in the conference standings, either way . . . and there was the very real threat that a win in an extended game would leave the Diamond Dogs wearied and winded heading into a crucial S.E.C. series on Friday. When it came to bonus cantos in a non-league outing, shorter might well be as good as or better than victorious.
Naturally, then, I was pleased when three successive Georgia Tech batters grounded out---to first, short, and second, respectively---to dispense with the top of the tenth. I was less pleased when Dunn popped up to record the first out of the Red and Black's turn at bat; still less so when Wyatt put the ball into play but was thrown out at first; least of all when Side popped up to necessitate an 11th frame.
Three Yellow Jacket batters entered the batter's box in the top of the inning; three Ramblin' Wreck batters returned to the dugout without having reached base. The bottom of the 11th canto opened auspiciously when Beckham drew a base on balls and the multitalented Wieters was given the ball and directed to go get three outs before allowing a Georgia player to cross the plate.
The Bulldogs' Morris proceeded to do the worst thing he could do short of hitting into a double play: he went down swinging. Felmy, who had gone hitless during regulation play, then picked a good moment at which to end his slump, as the Red and Black designated hitter doubled to left center, bringing Beckham around to score and, mercifully, ending the game both swiftly and victoriously.
This was a tough way for the Diamond Dogs to win one, but Georgia's run of consecutive victories remains intact . . . which, with any luck, will give the Classic City Canines additional impetus to continue their winning ways on the Plains in a weekend series that could set up a Georgia-Kentucky showdown for the division crown.
Stay tuned; I'm not getting overconfident, but this is getting good.