The unranked Georgia Bulldogs and the top-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores commemorated the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla by playing the second game of their three-game set in the Classic City. Visiting Vandy won the opening round in a competitive contest on Friday night, giving the 'Dores the league's best won-lost records in conference play (16-6) and overall (40-8).
The Diamond Dogs, by contrast, were tied with Auburn for last place in the S.E.C. with a 7-15 mark, languishing nine games out of first place in the division and sporting the only overall losing ledger (18-29) in the league. Vanderbilt came into Saturday's contest riding an eight-game winning streak and the Red and Black arrived at Foley Field trailing a 1-9 record against Eastern Division foes. In short, even though Georgia somehow had managed to win five of its previous 10 games, it didn't look good for the home team.
Any use of the phrase "didn't look good" requires that I post a photograph of Kristin Davis, in order to provide contrast.
The game got underway with Nathan Moreau on the mound for the Classic City Canines in the top of the first frame. The sophomore southpaw, who came into the contest with a 3-2 ledger and a 5.37 E.R.A., got the first two batters he faced to ground out before hitting Dominic de la Osa with a pitch. The plunking proved harmless, however, as Pedro Alvarez flied out in the next at-bat.
The home half of the inaugural inning commenced when Mike Minor took the hill for the Music City Sailors. As his surname implies, Minor is a freshman, but he has pitched like a veteran, earning a 7-0 record with a 2.41 earned run average. It came as something of a surprise, therefore, when the Commodore left-hander surrendered a leadoff walk to Ryan Peisel and a subsequent single to Jonathan Wyatt.
Gordon Beckham's ensuing flyout moved the Bulldog third baseman over to his ordinary position on the diamond, setting the stage for Rich Poythress to drop a double into left field to plate a pair of runs. The Red and Black first baseman added insult to injury by taking third base on the throw and coming home when Matt Olson grounded out to short.
Matt Robbins went down swinging to end the inning with the home team holding a 3-0 lead on a couple of hits, but the undaunted 'Dores went to work in the top of the second stanza when Ryan Flaherty began the proceedings by punching a double into center field. Fortunately, Moreau managed to get Matt Meingasner to fly out, Parker Hanks to ground out, and Andrew Giobbi to strike out to strand the Vanderbilt shortstop in scoring position.
Ryan Flaherty went two for four and was played by Robert Clohessy during the last (and worst) seasons of "Hill Street Blues."
After the first two Bulldog batters struck out to begin the bottom of the canto, Mike Freeman singled to center field, but his stay on the basepaths was cut short when Peisel hit into a fielder's choice. The Commodores went three up and three down in the top of the third inning. Moreau returned to the dugout having faced 11 batters, struck out three, allowed one hit, and surrendered neither a walk nor a run.
Wyatt led off the home half of the frame by putting one out to right field for the fourth Georgia hit and the fourth Bulldog run of the afternoon. The next three Classic City Canines grounded out, struck out, and popped up, respectively. Minor had confronted 14 batters and, despite tallying four strikeouts to only one walk, the Vandy hurler was on the bad end of a 4-0 deficit.
Alvarez intended to have something to say about that, however; after de la Osa flied out at the start of the fourth stanza, the Commodore third baseman put a single into center field. A Flaherty strikeout and a Meingasner flyout left him at first, though. Robbins began the bottom of the inning with an out, but Joey Lewis drew a base on balls and Travis Parrott knocked a double to right field.
Freeman followed with a single to score the Georgia catcher and Peisel sent a sacrifice fly into center field, bringing the Bulldog left fielder home, as well. When Wyatt watched a called third strike sail by, the home half of the canto concluded with the Red and Black out in front by a 6-0 margin. In the top of the fifth frame, Moreau retired the side in succession on a groundout, a strikeout, and a flyout to take the contest to its halfway point with the Diamond Dog hurler having conceded only two hits, no walks, and no runs to the 18 batters to have crossed his path.
On Saturday afternoon, Georgia starting pitcher Nathan Moreau ruled the Commodores like he was Lionel Richie.
Beckham and Poythress registered consecutive flyouts to right field in the bottom of the inning and Olson polished off the home team's turn at the plate with a groundout. Vanderbilt had only an Alex Feinberg single to show for the top of the sixth stanza, as the other three Commodores who came up to bat recorded a flyout, a strikeout, and a groundout in sequence. With six innings under his belt, Moreau had faced 22 batters, had tallied twice as many strikeouts (6) as the opposition had earned hits (3), and still had not surrendered either a walk or a run.
After Robbins grounded out to kick off the bottom of the sixth, Lewis took first base on an error. When Parrott placed a single in right field and took second base on the throw, the Bulldog catcher advanced to third. Freeman reached on the fielder's choice that cut down the Georgia left fielder, but Peisel muscled a base hit into center field to bring home an unearned run.
Wyatt's subsequent strikeout sent the home team back out into the field, but the Diamond Dogs had extended their lead to seven runs. Flaherty led off the top of the seventh stanza with his second hit and the Commodores' fourth. When Meingasner drew a base on balls in the ensuing at-bat, the visitors were presented with their best scoring opportunity of the afternoon, but the nation's No. 1 team failed to capitalize on their chance. Hanks and Ryan Davis both struck out and Shea Robin hit into a fielder's choice to keep Flaherty from advancing even as far as third base.
Minor was relieved before the Diamond Dogs came back up to bat in the bottom of the frame. The Vanderbilt starter had encountered 29 Georgia batters, recording six strikeouts but also giving up eight hits and seven runs. Brett Jacobson took over and, after Beckham reached on an error, the Commodore reliever got Poythress to ground into a double play. Olson's subsequent single went to waste when Robbins hit into a fielder's choice.
Vandy starting pitcher Mike Minor had a rough outing, so it was probably for the best that his father was too busy fighting Mr. Incredible to be able to attend the game.
Moreau's day was done before the eighth inning began, as well. The Red and Black starter had run across 27 opposing batters, striking out eight, walking one, and surrendering four hits in the course of pitching a shutout. The hurling duties devolved upon Trevor Holder, who retired the side in sequence in the top of the frame.
After the Diamond Dogs were sat down in order in the bottom of the stanza, the final canto began with back-to-back strikeouts by Alvarez and Flaherty. Jonathan White's subsequent single to center field served only to pad the visitors' statistics, as Holder closed out the contest to preserve the 7-0 victory.
Saturday's win was a genuine achievement. The Commodores sustained their first shutout loss since their 2006 season opener and Mike Minor was dealt his first loss of the season. Nathan Moreau went a season-high seven innings and recorded a career-high eight strikeouts. Ryan Peisel extended his hitting streak to 15 games and Ryan Flaherty twice found himself standing on second base with no one out . . . and the top team in the land was unable to bring him around to score.
The Red and Black played errorless ball and made the most of their opportunities, turning nine hits and two walks into seven runs. Leadoff hitter Ryan Peisel and cleanup hitter Rich Poythress did their jobs, combining to go two for six at the plate, draw one walk, score a pair of runs, and collect four R.B.I. The Diamond Dogs will have the chance to win the series on Sunday afternoon.