As Wednesday evening's game between the Diamond Dogs and their in-state rivals in Atlanta approached, I felt a looming sense of dread. Georgia came into the game sporting an abysmal 13-23 record and the hometown Yellow Jackets arrived at the park boasting a 22-14 ledger that was almost exactly a mirror image of the Red and Black's. I had a bad feeling about this one from the get-go.
Accordingly, I regarded it as something of a moral victory when Ryan Peisel led off the first inning with a base hit, even though Jonathan Wyatt subsequently hit into the fielder's choice that put the Bulldog third baseman out at second and Gordon Beckham grounded into the double play that ended the inning. Hey, I figured, at least the Classic City Canines got a hit; at least that was something.
What do the Georgia baseball team and the Baha Men have in common? Neither one of them can manage to get more than one hit.
Alex McRee was on the mound in the bottom of the frame and he retired the first two batters he faced before walking Matt Wieters and giving up a double to Wally Crancer to move the Georgia Tech catcher over to third. Luke Murton went down swinging to send the contest to its second stanza, but already the writing was on the wall.
Matt Olson dropped a one-out single into center field in the top of the inning, but Joey Lewis grounded into a double play in the next at-bat. Patrick Long likewise registered a base hit with two outs away in the home half of the canto, but he was caught stealing to conclude the Golden Tornado's turn at the plate.
Jake Crane was hit by a pitch at the outset of the third inning and Miles Starr sacrificed him over to second, but a Blake Cannady strikeout and a Peisel flyout prevented the Red and Black second baseman from making further progress around the basepaths. Jeff Ussery drew a base on balls to start the bottom of the frame, then Danny Payne and Michael Fisher recorded consecutive singles to plate a run and chase McRee from the mound.
The Georgia starter had given up four hits and two walks to the 11 batters he had faced and he was succeeded by Steve Esmonde, who got Crancer and Murton out to end the inning following the sacrifice fly by Wieters that scored Georgia Tech's second run of the inning. While Wyatt did his part to erase the Diamond Dogs' deficit by drawing a leadoff walk in the top of the fourth frame, Beckham flied out and Rich Poythress grounded into a double play to squelch the budding threat.
Georgia Tech right fielder Wally Crancer went one for five on Wednesday night, but Dasher, Dancer, and Vixen continued to cheer him on throughout the contest.
The wheels officially began to come off in the bottom of the inning. Tony Plagman led off with a base hit and, after Curtis Dupart went down swinging, Long belted another single into left field. A Bulldog error allowed the Yellow Jacket third baseman to advance to his customary position and permitted the Ramblin' Wreck first baseman to score. After Ussery walked and stole second, Payne knocked a single into center field to score two more runs.
Understandably, Esmonde's evening was done at that juncture, so Joshua Fields came in from the bullpen and got Fisher to ground out after allowing Payne to swipe second. When Wieters reached on an error, the Georgia Tech center fielder scored an unearned run. Crancer proceeded to end the inning by grounding out, but the home team held a commanding 6-0 lead over the Classic City Canines, a team not known for its prowess at the plate.
To their credit, the Diamond Dogs did not fold their tents. Following an Olson groundout, Lewis singled to center field and advanced to second on a Crane groundout, but Matt Cerione's ensuing strikeout left the Georgia designated hitter stranded in scoring position. Mercifully, the Yellow Jackets went three up and three down in the bottom of the fifth frame, bringing the Red and Black back up to bat.
The sixth stanza began with a leadoff double by Starr, followed by a two-run shot to center field by Peisel. A Beckham walk after a Wyatt flyout forced a Georgia Tech pitching change and the fourth Golden Tornado hurler of the night, Jared Hyatt, coaxed groundouts from the next two Georgia batters to preserve the Yellow Jackets' 6-2 advantage.
Georgia Tech pitcher Jared Hyatt, unlike Alabama pitcher Austin Hyatt, isn't the namesake of a hotel, but he is in Atlanta, so that's close enough for me to post this picture.
Iain Sebastian was called upon to pitch the bottom of the frame and he began by striking out Long. That initial success was not indicative of good things to come, however, as Ussery walked and stole second, Payne walked, and both baserunners advanced on a passed ball after Fisher flied out to record the second out of the inning. When Wieters walked to load the bases, Nathan Moreau was brought in and he managed to persuade Crancer to ground out to second base.
The Diamond Dogs went in order in the top of the seventh stanza, flying out, striking out, and grounding out in succession to bring Adam McDaniel to the mound to pitch the bottom of the inning. He began by surrendering a home run to Murton and followed that up by plunking Plagman. After striking out Dupart, McDaniel threw the wild pitch that allowed the Georgia Tech first baseman to advance to second.
To make matters worse, the Bulldog hurler gave up an R.B.I. single to Long in the next at-bat, but he was able to get Ussery to fly out before the Golden Tornado third baseman swiped second base. McDaniel managed to sneak a called third strike past Payne to end the inning with the home team leading by six runs.
After Starr struck out and Peisel popped up to get the eighth canto underway, Wyatt smacked a double into center field, only to have Beckham go down swinging to send the Yellow Jackets back up to the plate. Ryan Woolley was called upon to serve as the seventh Bulldog pitcher of the evening and, after getting Fisher out, he hit Wieters with a pitch.
Yellow Jacket catcher Matt Wieters drew two walks, batted in a run, and is a highly touted pro prospect. Nevertheless, he must suffer the indignity of going through life with the name "Wieters." (Just try saying it out loud and I promise you you'll giggle. Go ahead; try saying, "Woolley plunked Wieters." See?)
Crancer grounded out to move Wieters over to second and Murton walked, but Plagman popped up ere additional damage was done. Needing to score seven runs before recording three outs, the Diamond Dogs made no effort to add excitement to the ninth inning, as Poythress, Olson, and Lewis each flied out in succession to bring the contest to its merciful close.
It was a typical Georgia baseball game . . . unfortunately. The Classic City Canines committed two errors in the field and the first two Red and Black pitchers of the night between them gave up seven hits and six runs to the 19 batters they collectively faced. Despite being outdone only by three hits (9-6), the Diamond Dogs were defeated by twice that many runs (8-2).
Ryan Peisel performed well in the leadoff spot, going two for four with a home run and two R.B.I., but he was the only Bulldog to claim more than one hit and none of his teammates batted in a run. The second, third, and fourth batters in the order combined to go one for 10 at the plate and the Classic City Canines added a new wrinkle to their repertoire of maddening methods for losing baseball games, displaying a newfound penchant for hitting into double plays.
The Diamond Dogs will host Arkansas in Athens this weekend. With five S.E.C. series and 19 games remaining, a winning record is highly unlikely for the Red and Black and a return trip to the S.E.C. tournament would not appear to be in the cards, as Georgia must face the Razorbacks, the Wildcats, the Commodores, the Bulldogs, and the Gamecocks, who between them are 43-29-1 in conference play.