In the first game of the series, Georgia took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the first inning. In the second outing against the Gators, the Red and Black were up 4-0 after one. This afternoon, though, the contest was snarled in a scoreless tie after two stanzas. Assuredly, that is a recipe for frayed nerves and churning stomach acids.
Perhaps mindful of my distress, Georgia claimed the lead in the top of the third frame . . . in a big way. Matthew Dunn got the inning underway with a right field single, which Jonathan Wyatt followed up on with a base hit to center. A sacrifice bunt by Joey Side advanced both baserunners, then Gordon Beckham walked to set up a Josh Morris single to bring Dunn home.
Bobby Felmy drew a base on balls, which plated Wyatt. At that point, the Gators decided Chas Spottswood's day was done and Kris Gawriluk was brought in from Mordor to replace the Florida starter. Unfortunately for the Orange and Blue, the Orc relief pitcher fared no better, surrendering a Jason Jacobs double that enabled Beckham and Morris to score.
Florida pitcher Kris Gawriluk (right).
Matt Olson followed that up with another double to drive in Felmy and Jacobs, then a Ryan Peisel single through the right side brought Olson back to the dugout, as well. Gawriluk walked Dunn and Wyatt, then the day was done for the middle reliever from Middle Earth, as Gawriluk was succeeded on the mound by Josh Edmondson, the Gators' third pitcher of the third inning.
Side's sacrifice fly off of Edmondson brought Peisel home, then the side---by which I mean the team, not the center fielder---was retired when Beckham flied out to left field to end the inning. This gave the Diamond Dogs an 8-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third frame, but whatever good feeling I had about the contest promptly vanished, as the Red and Black gave three runs right back to the Orange and Blue.
Adam Davis and Brian Jeroloman each took Georgia's Jason Leaver to a full count before drawing a walk and Matt LaPorta's ensuing home run cut the Bulldogs' lead to five. In the top of the fourth, a pair of doubles by Morris and Jacobs extended the Diamond Dogs' advantage to 9-3.
That might have had me feeling pretty good, had not the Gators almost immediately thereafter recorded base hits by Brian Leclerc and Austin Pride to mount a new scoring threat. Following strikeouts by Brandon McArthur and Stephen Barton, Stephen Dodson was brought in from the bullpen as the reliever for Leaver.
Dodson proceeded to surrender a single to left center to Florida's Adam Davis, which loaded the bases for Brian Jeroloman. As the Gator catcher approached the plate, scenarios began to play themselves out in my head; a grand slam couldn't tie the game for the home team, but it could get them right back into the contest with a supportive crowd and momentum at their backs.
Fortunately, the Gator batter lined out to short to end the inning, although, in Jeroloman's defense, he is just a 3.03-liter wine bottle, so expecting him to hit a home run does seem like a bit much to ask. Were he a full gallon container of spirits, that would be one thing, but four-fifths of a gallon? Get serious.
Florida catcher Brian Jeroloman.
The Diamond Dogs went quietly in the top of the fifth, with the first three batters recording a pair of groundouts and a flyout. The Gators, meanwhile, got right back to work to begin the outing's second half. A Bulldog fielding error put Matt LaPorta aboard and David Cash put Dodson's first pitch through the right side to advance the runner.
With no men out and two men on, Chris Petrie bunted and reached on a fielder's choice, moving Cash to second but leaving LaPorta out at third. On an 0-2 pitch, Brandon McArthur also took first base on a fielder's choice, placing Petrie in scoring position as Cash was out at third.
Brian Leclerc drew four balls on five pitches to load the bases for Austin Pride, a designated hitter who ought to have been playing for the Texas Longhorns on the strength of his nomenclature alone. Pride muscled a double down the left field line to bring a trio of unearned runs across the plate.
Fortunately, Georgia got out of the inning one batter later, but the damage had been done and the Bulldogs headed into the top of the sixth inning clinging to a 9-6 lead with a lot of baseball left to be played. My confidence ebbed.
The Red and Black squandered scoring opportunities in the sixth, seventh, and eighth frames, which only added to my anxiety. In the meantime, Georgia hurler Nathan Moreau was brought in to handle the pitching duties for the Diamond Dogs.
Although the reliever got ahead of the hitter in the count, David Cash singled through the right side to lead off the bottom of the seventh, at which point Moreau bore down and retired the side, recording two flyouts and a strikeout that caught Brian Leclerc looking.
Georgia pitcher Nathan Moreau.
Joshua Fields replaced Moreau on the mound in the bottom of the eighth, immediately giving up an Austin Pride double but proceeding to sit down the next three batters he faced. After the top of the ninth stanza produced nothing more for Georgia than a meaningless Jonathan Wyatt single, Fields retook the field and promptly plunked Matt LaPorta.
Florida had one man on and no men out with the Diamond Dogs clinging to a three-run lead. My heart rate accelerated and my blood pressure rose. David Cash went down swinging, which made matters only marginally better, then Chris Petrie lined into a double play to bring the contest to a sudden, and most satisfactory, conclusion.
The Bulldogs' sweep of the Gators in Gainesville could be taken as cause for confidence, but I know better than to jinx my team by placing my trust in its abilities. Accordingly, I would remind my fellow denizens of Bulldog Nation that, while it is nice to know that the Diamond Dogs are 28-16 overall and 10-11 in conference play, the team the Red and Black just beat now sports a 6-15 league ledger and a 24-23 mark against all comers.
The Gators are dead last in the division and they entered the day six games out of first place in the S.E.C. East. Georgia, meanwhile, has games remaining against Kentucky and South Carolina, which just happen to be the top two conference teams east of the Alabama state line.
In other words, there's a lot of baseball left to be played, but, for now, I feel as good as I will let myself feel about where the Diamond Dogs now stand.