Do you remember the scene in "Broadcast News" when Albert Brooks is explaining to Holly Hunter how poorly his weekend stint at the anchor desk went?
He had an historic case of flop sweat, leading to a disastrous newscast, in spite of which he seemed absolutely chipper, and, when asked how this could be, he responded: "At some point, it was so off-the-chart bad, it just got funny." Such is the case with the 2007 Georgia baseball season.
Tuesday evening's date with Western Carolina was promising enough for eight innings, but, in the end, with maddening predictability, it all fell apart for the Diamond Dogs. Jason Leaver gave the Red and Black six solid innings of shutout ball, plunking three of the 22 batters he faced yet surrendering only one hit and no runs, earned or otherwise.
In fact, the Catamounts' first batter in the top of the first frame, Barrett Shaft, was hit by a pitch, but Leaver retired the next three batters he faced. The Georgia starter gave up a walk to Kenny Smith and a base hit to Nick Liles in the top of the second stanza, then proceeded to plunk Jason Haynes in the third and Blake Murphy in the fourth, but, otherwise, Leaver did not allow any W.C.U. hitter to make it onto the basepaths.
Western Carolina center fielder Barrett Shaft went without a hit in three at-bats. Nevertheless, he is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man. (Shaft! Can you dig it?) He's the Catamount that won't cop out when there's danger all about. (Shaft! Right on!) I'm talking 'bout Shaft. He's a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman.
In the meantime, the beleaguered Georgia offense was roughing up W.C.U. pitcher Drew Saberhagen from the outset. Saberhagen lasted a little under eight innings, conceding 13 hits while tallying only two strikeouts . . . yet the Catamount hurler walked no one and surrendered only a single run.
Jonathan Wyatt led off the bottom of the first inning with a single and Ryan Peisel followed with another, but neither Bulldog baserunner made it past second base, despite the Classic City Canines' having put a man in scoring position with no outs. Matt Olson likewise punched a single into center field in the Red and Black's first at-bat of the second frame, then Clayton Cain doubled to right to put the Georgia right fielder on third base.
Travis Parrott's ensuing base hit failed to plate the run, but the bases were loaded and no one was out . . . yet the next two Diamond Dogs went down swinging and Wyatt ended the inning with a flyout to center field. In the bottom of the third inning, Gordon Beckham dropped a single into center field and took second base on a balk. Joey Lewis's flyout in the next at-bat advanced the Bulldog shortstop to third, but the home team could not bring him the rest of the way around to score.
So was the tone for the contest set in the early going. Cain doubled to left field to lead off the fourth frame and Parrott sacrificed him over to third, but there the Georgia first baseman was left stranded at inning's end. A two-out single by Beckham in the fifth stanza came to naught. Olson started the sixth inning with a base hit and took second on a Cain groundout. Parrott thereafter flied out to right and the lead runner was thrown out at home on a base hit by Jake Crane. Peisel singled in the seventh but likewise failed to score.
Georgia first baseman Clayton Cain had a three-for-four day at the plate and he didn't do too badly with Teri Hatcher, either.
By the start of the eighth inning, Leaver had been succeeded on the mound by Alex McRee, who faced seven batters, striking out three, walking none, and giving up hits to two. In the top of the penultimate frame, McRee struck out the first two batters he faced, but, when Haynes knocked a base hit into left field, McRee was lifted in favor of Stephen Dodson, who allowed the Catamount designated hitter to take second on a wild pitch but who retired the lone batter he faced to send the contest to the bottom of the eighth frame as a scoreless tie.
Lewis began the bottom of the inning with a flyout, but Olson and Cain followed that up with back-to-back base hits. Parrott flied out to move Olson over to third, at which point Greg Holland came on in relief of Saberhagen. The Western Carolina reliever promptly surrendered the single to Matt Cerione that broke the deadlock and gave the home team a 1-0 advantage. Miles Starr swung at strike three in the next at-bat to prevent further scoring, leaving men on second and third after a successful double-steal.
The Diamond Dogs now needed just three outs to claim a one-run victory over W.C.U. and Joshua Fields was sent to the mound in the top of the ninth to collect those outs. His turn on the hill began well enough, as Jonathan Greene went down swinging. Fields then walked Murphy and surrendered a second base on balls to Smith before allowing both baserunners to advance on a wild pitch.
Many things can go wrong for a team that holds a one-run lead but has allowed the opposition to put men on second and third with only one out. The worst of these awful options is a home run, which John Ingram delivered to give the visiting team a 3-1 advantage. Fields then retired Liles on a groundout and Brent Greer on a strikeout, but, at that point, the damage was done.
The Catamounts beat the Bulldogs! The Catamounts beat the Bulldogs! (All right, it wasn't quite that dramatic, but it was close enough.)
Still, the home team had its final chance. Wyatt led off with a base hit. Peisel went down swinging, but Beckham singled to advance the Georgia center fielder to second base. Lewis, too, swung at and missed the third strike thrown his way, then the baserunners stole third and second, respectively, to put the tying run in scoring position. Olson, infuriatingly yet not at all surprisingly, struck out to end the game.
A decade or so ago, during a particularly bad stretch of injuries and losses suffered by the Georgia football team, Larry Munson was heard to grouse on the air that the 'Dawgs weren't "snakebit" because they weren't that lucky. The same sentiment now applies to the Red and Black baseball team.
The Classic City Canines collected 16 hits to the Catamounts' four. In fact, Georgia registered at least a base hit in every single inning. Between them, Gordon Beckham, Clayton Cain, Matt Olson, Ryan Peisel, and Jonathan Wyatt went 13 for 24 at the plate, yet the five of them were without so much as a single R.B.I. amongst them.
The Diamond Dogs committed no errors and Dave Perno sent his reliable closer to the mound in the top of the final frame with a lead after his pitching staff had held the opposition scoreless for eight innings. If ever there was a recipe for success, that was it . . . but it was not to be.
The Red and Black certainly did not lack for offense, but, once again, they failed to turn baserunners into runs. Georgia left 13 men on base. Regrettably, Tuesday's game was simply the latest remix of a familiar refrain and, with conference play beginning on Friday against a brutal S.E.C. schedule, there currently is little reason for hope that we are not in store for several more verses of the same old song.