Vanderbilt 13, Georgia 7

The Diamond Dogs found themselves in Nashville on Friday night for the first game of a crucial S.E.C. series with Vanderbilt. The Red and Black entered the outing owning a three-game lead in the Eastern Division over the second-place Commodores, secure in the knowledge that one weekend win would go a long way toward deciding the conference race and two victories would secure a championship.

Mike Minor was on the hill in the visitors’ half of the first frame and he got the game underway by extracting a first-pitch groundout from Ryan Peisel and sneaking a called third strike past Matt Olson before walking Gordon Beckham on a payoff pitch. The Georgia shortstop was then picked off at first to conclude the canto.

Trevor Holder gave up a leadoff walk to David Macias in the bottom of the inning and, after the next two Commodores flied out to right field in succession, Ryan Flaherty punched a single through the left side to advance the Vandy center fielder to second. Alex Feinberg struck out on a payoff pitch to strand both baserunners.

The top of the second stanza started with a first-pitch single to right field by Rich Poythress. Following a Bryce Massanari flyout, Lyle Allen singled down the right field line to advance the Bulldog first baseman to third and Joey Lewis brought him home with a sacrifice fly. Although Allen was caught stealing and picked off, the Red and Black still had drawn first blood.

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(Insert obligatory Sylvester Stallone reference here.)

The Music City Sailors did not allow their guests to enjoy the lead for long, however. Andrew Giobbi delivered a one-out first-pitch single to center field in the home half of the canto and Steven Liddle sent Holder’s next pitch through the left side to advance the baserunner. The bases were loaded when Brad French was plunked, allowing Macias to plate a pair of runs with a double.

After a Dominic de la Osa triple brought home two more, Pedro Alvarez registered an R.B.I. and an out when he was thrown out at first while the Commodore right fielder crossed home plate. Flaherty grounded out on the very next pitch to close out a four-hit, five-run frame for the home team.

David Thoms’s one-out single in the top of the third inning was negated when Peisel grounded into a double play and Vanderbilt was retired in sequence in the bottom of the canto on a groundout, a lineout, and a flyout. A two-out double by Poythress went for naught in the visitors’ half of the fourth frame when Massanari struck out looking, whereas the ‘Dores went three up and three down in the home half of the stanza.

Allen led off the top of the fifth inning with a base hit up the middle and Lewis followed that up with a home run to left field to cut the Commodores’ lead to 5-3. The next two Diamond Dogs struck out in sequence, but Peisel and Olson collected consecutive base hits to keep the frame alive until Beckham flied out on a payoff pitch. A one-out walk by Alvarez in the bottom of the canto was squandered when Flaherty sent a double-play ball to short.

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Ryan Flaherty failed to bat in a run and his costly error allowed the go-ahead run to cross home plate in the seventh inning, proving once again why he was such a poor substitute for Joe Coffey during the declining final seasons of "Hill Street Blues."

Poythress worked the count full before popping up to start the visitors’ half of the sixth stanza. When Massanari thereafter walked and Allen sent a first-pitch single through the right side, Minor’s evening was done and Chase Reid was sent to extract outs from the next two Georgia batters. This he did, causing the Classic City Canines to strand the tying run at first base.

The Music City Sailors, no doubt knowing the contest was tightening up for them, undertook to pad their advantage in the home half of the frame. Feinberg got the proceedings underway with a base hit and Shea Robin singled in the ensuing at-bat, as well. After the Vanderbilt second baseman was caught stealing, Giobbi grounded out to move the Commie catcher to third. A Liddle single scored Robin before French flied out, leaving the Diamond Dogs with a narrow 9-8 edge in hits but the ‘Dores with a 6-3 lead in runs.

The Red and Black set about altering both of those statistical relationships in the top of the seventh canto, in which Peisel sent a one-out single up the middle. Olson smacked a payoff pitch into right field for a double and Beckham’s subsequent single plated a couple of runs. No sooner had Steven Schwartz been brought on to replace Reid than Poythress sent the Vanderbilt reliever’s first pitch to right center field to bring home the tying run.

Following the fielding error by Flaherty that enabled Massanari to reach base safely, Allen put a first-pitch single into right field to bring Poythress around to score an unearned run. Schwartz was then pulled after five pitches, none of them strikes, and Russell Brewer came on to strike out Lewis and Matt Cerione to put a five-hit, four-run, one-error canto in the books.

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May the Schwartz be with you!

Holder returned to the hill in the home half of the stanza with the Diamond Dogs holding a 7-6 lead in runs and a 14-8 advantage in hits. He promptly threw two strikes to Macias before giving up a single to the Vanderbilt center fielder then gave up the home run to de la Osa that gave the Commodores an 8-7 edge. The Georgia starter thereafter plunked Alvarez, surrendered a single to Flaherty, and saw his first pitch to Feinberg knocked through the right side for the base hit that plated another run.

At that point, Steve Esmonde succeeded Holder on the mound and his first toss to home plate was turned into an R.B.I. groundout by Robin. Although Flaherty scored on the play, Feinberg was thrown out at third, enabling Esmonde’s second pitch to produce the Giobbi groundout that ended a four-hit, four-run inning to narrow the visitors’ edge in hits to 14-12 and, much more importantly, permit the home team to reclaim a 10-7 lead in runs.

All four Bulldog batters in the top of the eighth frame concluded their respective plate appearances on 1-2 pitches; unfortunately, although Olson turned his into a base hit, his three teammates turned theirs into strikeouts. When Esmonde allowed a one-out first-pitch single up the middle to French in the home half of the inning, a pitching switch brought Justin Earls in from the bullpen just in time for him to give up a two-run shot to left field to Macias.

Earls got ahead of de la Osa 0-2 before plunking the Vanderbilt right fielder, who proceeded to swipe second and come around to score when Alvarez singled up the middle on another 0-2 pitch to give both teams 15 hits and lengthen the Commodores’ lead in runs to 13-7. Mercifully, the next two Music City Sailors registered outs to end a three-hit, three-run inning.

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Thomas McClary had three R.B.I. and, although Walter Orange was limited to a single hit, Lionel Richie absolutely killed our bullpen!

Poythress gave the Classic City Canines hope by leading off the top of the ninth canto with a double, but Massanari struck out, Allen flied out, and Robbie O’Bryan struck out in the next three at-bats as part of the disaster’s denouement. In the end, the Red and Black out-hit their hosts (16-15), but Georgia surrendered eight runs in the last three innings to doom their cause.

The Commodores were able to score runs in bunches thanks to productive days from David Macias (3 for 4, 1 home run, 1 walk, 4 R.B.I.), Dominic de la Osa (2 for 4, 1 home run, 1 stolen base, 4 R.B.I.), Pedro Alvarez (1 for 3, 1 walk, 2 R.B.I.), Ryan Flaherty (2 for 5), Alex Feinberg (2 for 5, 1 R.B.I.), and even Steven Liddle (2 for 4, 1 R.B.I.).

While not without their own production from Ryan Peisel (2 for 5), Matt Olson (3 for 5), Gordon Beckham (1 for 4, 1 walk, 1 R.B.I.), Rich Poythress (4 for 5, 1 R.B.I.), Lyle Allen (4 for 5, 1 R.B.I.), and Joey Lewis (1 for 3, 1 home run, 3 R.B.I.), the Classic City Canines could not overcome the performance of their ordinarily reliable pitching staff, which failed in every facet, striking out just four of 41 opposing batters, plunking three and coughing up 15 hits and 13 earned runs.

Between Wednesday night’s outing and Friday night’s, the Diamond Dogs have allowed 30 hits and 24 runs in the last 17 innings. That, taken together with the Red and Black’s 4-5-1 ledger in the squad’s last ten contests, suggests that a Georgia squad which played five games per week for six straight weeks is dog tired heading into the stretch run. The timing of this apparent fade is terrible, but the Classic City Canines will have a chance to reclaim their three-game lead over Vanderbilt on Saturday, when a win will be absolutely critical.

 

Go ‘Dawgs!

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