The second half of the Diamond Dogs' star-crossed season started with a road trip to the home of the opponent against whom the Red and Black had closed out the opening leg of their campaign. After falling to the Tigers at Foley Field, Georgia traveled to Lake Hartwell to face Clemson at Fort Hill.
The Bulldog lineup had been reshuffled somewhat, as Blake Cannady led off the first frame for the visiting squad. The Georgia right fielder took first base on a bunt and advanced to second on an error, setting up a prime scoring opportunity for the Red and Black. Alas, a Gordon Beckham popup and lineouts by Jonathan Wyatt and Rich Poythress left Cannady stranded at second base.
The home team showed no such ineptitude about turning hits into runs. After Brad Chalk flied out to begin the bottom of the inning, Taylor Harbin punched a triple into left field, enabling Marquez Smith to score the Clemson shortstop with a base hit before Ben Paulsen grounded into the double play that saved the Diamond Dogs from coming to the plate in the top of the second stanza operating at more than a 1-0 deficit.
Tiger center fielder Brad Chalk claimed credit for two R.B.I. without recording a hit, which isn't bad for an antacid. (Image and joke shamelessly swiped from Kanu.)
Except for Alex Burg (who was hit by a Jason Leaver pitch), no player for either team reached base in the ensuing inning, but the third frame opened with a bang when Jake Crane led off with a home run to tie the game. A pair of groundouts followed before back-to-back base hits by Beckham and Wyatt put runners at the corners.
Poythress then drew a base on balls, but, with the bases loaded and two outs away, Matt Robbins hit into a fielder's choice. There was some excitement in the bottom of the frame when Addison Johnson registered a single and Chalk was plunked, but Harbin hit into a double play to keep the fireworks from turning into scoring.
By the start of the fourth frame, the Red and Black had chased Matt Zoltak from the game. The Clemson starter faced 14 batters in three innings' worth of work, allowing four hits and one earned run. He was relieved by Josh Thrailkill, who coaxed outs from the first two hitters before surrendering singles to Crane and Miles Starr, after the latter of which the Georgia catcher was thrown out at second base.
Bulldog second baseman Miles Starr was two for four with a pair of runs, but, contrary to popular belief, he is not the namesake of the final track on the Rolling Stones' 1973 release, "Goats Head Soup."
The Tigers had only a lineout, a groundout, and a strikeout to show for the bottom of the stanza, permitting the visitors to return to the plate to get the fifth inning underway. Cannady led off by grounding out, but Beckham belted a single into right field and advanced to second base when a failed pickoff attempt resulted in an error rather than an out.
A Wyatt home run plated a pair of runs and, after Poythress flied out, Robbins put a solo shot over the wall in center field. Ryan Peisel let strike three sail by in the next at-bat, but the Bulldogs had claimed a 4-1 lead, which the home team set about answering in the bottom of the inning. Burg and D.J. Mitchell drew walks to open the inning.
J.D. Burgess popped up to register the first out of the inning. This was followed by the base hit by Johnson that loaded the bases for Chalk, whose sacrifice fly brought home a run. Harbin's ensuing strikeout kept it a 4-2 game.
Clemson second baseman J.D. Burgess was held hitless in three at-bats, but, really, that's about par for the course, as far as guys named "J.D." go.
It did not stay that way for long, though. Brock Schnabel became the third strangely-named Clemson pitcher of the evening and, after inducing Matt Cerione to line out, he gave up, in succession, a double to Crane, a single to Starr, and a home run to Matt Olson. Two of the next three Georgia batters produced outs, but the visitors' turn at the plate concluded with the Diamond Dogs holding a 7-2 lead.
Adam McDaniel took the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning, replacing Leaver, who had conceded two earned runs on four hits to the 20 batters he had faced in five frames' worth of work. McDaniel did not prove up to the task of containing the home team, as he gave up a base hit to Smith, a walk to Paulsen, and a base hit to Doug Hogan to bring home a run.
That was the end of the line for McDaniel, who was pulled in favor of Ryan Woolley. The new Georgia hurler struck out Wilson Boyd before walking Mitchell. He then struck out Burgess before walking Johnson and Chalk in sequence, allowing additional runs to stroll home as a result of each of these free passes. By the time Harbin was persuaded to fly out, the Classic City Canines were clinging to a 7-5 lead, in spite of having outhit the Tigers by a 13-6 margin and committed no errors (as against Clemson's two miscues).
I think Clemson designated hitter Wilson Boyd used to be the hefty one in Wilson Phillips. I'm pretty sure he wasn't the blonde one, at any rate.
At the outset of the seventh frame, ostensibly in compliance with some obscure Palmetto State ordinance requiring college baseball teams to field only pitchers with bizarre cognomens, P.J. Zocchi took over the hurling responsibilities for the home team. He got a groundout from Robbins before giving up a base hit to Peisel.
The Georgia third baseman proceeded to come all the way around to his usual position on the field on an error by the pitcher during an ill-fated pickoff try, resulting in the intentional walking of Cerione. Crane thereafter hit into the fielder's choice that cut down the lead runner ere he reached home plate, but a base on balls to Starr loaded the bases for Olson.
The Bulldog right fielder knocked a base hit into left field to score Cerione and Crane. Beckham followed that up with a single to center field to plate Starr. With the score now 10-5 and the Red and Black having scored three runs in each of three consecutive innings, the Tigers no longer were willing to rely on Zoltaks, Thrailkills, Schnabels, Zocchis, or other "Doctor Who" villains; instead, they turned to Alex Martin, who walked Wyatt to load the bases, prompting Clemson to return partially to form by sending to the mound Justin Sarratt, whose name is strange, but who at least sounds more like a character from a William Faulkner novel than an alien from a "Flash Gordon" serial.
The Doctor warns Sarah Jane that, even though they succeeded in escaping the fell clutches of the crafty Zoltaks, they should remain wary, lest they find themselves ensnared in a diabolical trap set by the sworn enemies of the shiftless Schnabels, the scheming Thrailkills.
Poythress took a called third strike to send the Diamond Dogs back into the field. Smith led off the bottom of the frame with a single and advanced to third on an error when Paulsen hit into a fielder's choice. When Hogan was walked to load the bases with no one out, Boyd was called upon to get the home team right back into the contest and Woolley was pulled to make room for Trevor Holder. The Clemson designated hitter got the better of the Georgia reliever, as Boyd put a triple into right field to put three runs across the plate.
Mitchell's ensuing groundout brought Boyd the rest of the way home, giving the home team half as many hits (8) as the visitors (16) but cutting the gap on the scoreboard to 10-9. Holder sneaked a called third strike past Tim Morris, then Johnson flied out to end a wild seventh stanza. The top of the eighth frame was not without its share of intrigue, as Peisel singled and Crane was plunked, but these events occurred with one and two outs already gone, respectively, so a Starr strikeout returned the Diamond Dogs to the field clutching the skinniest of leads.
A two-out walk by Smith was all Clemson had to show for the home half of the eighth frame, so the Red and Black returned to the plate intent on padding their imperiled lead. Olson led off with a walk and Beckham grounded out to advance the Georgia right fielder to second base. This resulted in the departure of Sarratt and the arrival of the Tigers' seventh hurler of the night, Chris Fidrych. When Wyatt popped up, Fidrych gave way to Stephen Clyne, who convinced Poythress to fly out and bring the Tigers back up to bat.
To answer the inevitable question, yes, Clemson pitcher Chris Fidrych is distantly related to Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.
Joshua Fields was called upon to obtain three outs without surrendering any additional runs. He began by getting Hogan to chase strike three, which was encouraging. He followed this up by giving up a triple to Boyd, which was precisely the opposite of encouraging. Fields thereafter allowed the base hit to Mitchell that brought home the tying run, which was devastating.
After the Clemson right fielder succeeded in stealing second base, Fields struck out David Bunnell, placing the Red and Black one out away from taking the game to extra innings. Instead, the usually reliable closer coughed up the third hit of the final stanza, surrendering the double to Johnson that scored the winning run.
This team simply can't win for losing. Georgia held leads of 7-2 at the halfway point of the sixth inning and 10-5 at the halfway point of the seventh frame, but the Diamond Dogs couldn't close the deal. Between them, Gordon Beckham, Jake Crane, Matt Olson, Miles Starr, and Jonathan Wyatt were 13 for 21 with eight runs and nine R.B.I., providing exactly the sort of power and production the Georgia lineup has been lacking . . . yet, despite outhitting the opposition, 17-11, the Red and Black could not finish out the contest because of pitching breakdowns.
It is as though the Diamond Dogs are determined to find new ways to lose. No sooner does a glaring weakness appear to be overcome than what previously had been a source of confidence experiences an absolute meltdown. We can only imagine what this team might be like if ever the offense and the defense would show up on the same day. Until that happens, though---and it appears increasingly apparent that it will not happen in 2007---Georgia is doomed to suffer one disheartening setback after another, dropping one-run heartbreakers until the season comes to a merciful close on May 19.