The Diamond Dogs rolled into Nashville riding what felt like a season-best one-game winning streak, only to be brought crashing back to the harsh reality of the worst baseball season in Georgia history when Vanderbilt hammered the visitors 17-5.
Perhaps in response to constructive criticisms offered here at Dawg Sports (though probably not), David Perno and Brady Wiederhold shook up their pitching rotation for the series, sending regular Sunday starter Michael Palazzone to the mound on Friday night. After the Classic City Canines went three up and three down in the top of the first frame, the sophomore right-hander took the hill in the home half of the inning and walked Brian Harris. The Commodore shortstop advanced as far as third on a pair of groundouts before Aaron Westlake walked to put runners at the corners. A Curt Casali home run plated three before Andrew Giobbi looked at strike three.
Zach Cone led off the home half of the second stanza with a solo shot to center field, then, after the next three Bulldog batters carded outs, the Music City Sailors again began their turn at the plate with a base on balls. Although Joe Loftus erased the baserunner by grounding into a double play, Palazzone conceded a double, a pair of singles, and another walk.
This stretch of poor pitching allowed a run to score and resulted in regular Saturday starter Jeff Walters coming in from the bullpen. Westlake plated two with a single before Casali hit into a canto-concluding fielder’s choice. A one-out Todd Hankins single in the top of the third inning and a Connor Harrell walk in the bottom of the stanza represented the only plate appearances in either team’s turn at bat not to produce outs.
The fourth frame got underway with a base hit by Levi Hyams. The Red and Black second baseman stole second, took third on a Drew Fann error, and came home on a Kyle Farmer sacrifice fly. Vanderbilt answered in the bottom of the canto by loading the bases with three straight one-out singles and pushing a pair of runs across the plate on an RBI fielder’s choice and a Christian Glisson error. After Casali drew a base on balls to put three aboard once more, Giobbi scored two with a single and another couple came home on errors by Farmer and Glisson, respectively. Mercifully, Fann grounded into the double play that ended the six-run, four-hit, three-error debacle that staked the Commies to a 12-2 lead.
Brett DeLoach led off the visitors’ half of the fifth inning with a base hit, and Robert Shipman followed that up with a walk. A Hankins single scored one run, then a Johnathan Taylor bunt single loaded the bases for Peter Verdin. The Bulldog right fielder drew the walk that scored Shipman. Following a Hyams strikeout, Cone drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. By the time Farmer grounded out, Georgia had reduced its deficits to three in hits (9-6) and seven in runs (12-5) while still maintaining its edge in errors (3-1).
The bottom of the canto began with Chase Hawkins coming in from the bullpen to relieve Walters. In four frames’ worth of work, two of the Diamond Dogs’ regular weekend starters between them had walked six and struck out one while surrendering a half-dozen runs apiece. The new Red and Black hurler began by walking Harris, gave up a base hit to Anthony Gomez, and allowed a run to score when Jason Esposito reached on a fielder’s choice. Westlake thereafter grounded into a double play before additional damage was done.
Neither contestant produced a baserunner in the sixth stanza, while Hankins reached first in the upper half of the seventh canto on what proved to be a harmless error when the Georgia third baseman was caught stealing. Vandy began another offensive outburst when Fann drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the inning. A Hankins error and a Gomez single scored an unearned run. A two-out base hit by Westlake put three men on for Casali, who brought two of them home with a double.
Hyams and Cone opened the top of the eighth frame with consecutive singles, only to have their teammates register three outs in the ensuing at-bats. The pitching duties passed to Cecil Tanner at the outset of the home team’s turn at the plate, and the latest Red and Black reliever walked Jordan Wormsley, threw the wild pitch that allowed the Commodore center fielder to advance, plunked Loftus, and walked Regan Flaherty before finally getting down to the serious business of eliciting outs from the opposition.
This he did by striking out Harris, extracting a run-scoring flyout from Riley Reynolds, and (after issuing a free pass to Andrew Harris) extracting a flyout of the non-sacrificial variety from Westlake. Accordingly, the Classic City Canines headed to the top of the ninth canto needing only a dozen runs to force extra innings. Just to be on the safe side, the ‘Dores guarded against this prospect by sending into the outfield freshman Michael Andrew Yastrzemski, whose grandfather, Carl, has a plaque in Cooperstown.
Young Yaz’s presence in right field initially had its intended effect of intimidating DeLoach into striking out, but Chase Davidson sent a single into center field in the ensuing at-bat before Taylor belted a two-out base knock to the pitcher. Verdin thereafter struck out swinging to put another sorry effort into the record book.
This game was entirely lacking in redeeming social value of any sort. Despite being out-hit only by a 13-10 margin, the Diamond Dogs were throttled by a twelve-run margin. Alone among Georgia batters, Zach Cone (2 for 3, 2 RBI) and Todd Hankins (2 for 3, 1 RBI) both got a hit and batted in a run. The Athenians went hitless with the bases loaded and went one for nine with two outs against them.
Michael Palazzone and Jeff Walters were rocked for a combined nine hits and nine earned runs, and, although regular relievers Chase Hawkins and Cecil Tanner between them permitted just a pair of earned runs, the combination of the pitching staff’s 2-to-11 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and the position players’ ghastly four errors ensured another blowout loss.
Only twelve games remain ere we at long last get shut of this awful, awful baseball season.