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Georgia 4, Auburn 3

[Commissioner A. Bartlett] Giamatti regarded baseball as a kind of Homeric Odyssey. The batter is its hero. He begins at home, but his mission is to venture away from it, encountering various unforeseeable dangers. At each station opponents scheme to put him out by strength or skill or guile. Should they succeed, he dies on the bases, defeated. If his own heroic talents are superior, however, he completes the circuit and returns victorious to home, there to be greeted with joy by the friends he left behind.

So wrote Donald Kagan, the Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University and the author of a four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War, in a 1990 issue of The Public Interest.

When contemplating Kagan's description of Giamatti's thesis while following Friday evening's conference opener against hated Auburn, I found myself wondering: "Who will be the Diamond Dogs' Odysseus?"

In the first inning, at least, it looked as though the likeliest candidate to be the subject of an epic poem was Nathan Moreau, who held the Plainsmen hitless in the top of the frame. No Red and Black batter committed any acts of heroism in the bottom of the inning, when the first three Georgia hitters grounded out.

Supposedly, the name "Odysseus" could be rendered as "the one who hates and, at the same time, is hated," which only seems fair, since, after all, I hate Auburn.

Moreau surrendered a single to the second batter of the second inning, but the Tigers' Andy Bennett was caught stealing and no other visiting player reached base. The Bulldogs went three up and three down in the home half of the frame.

Moreau's worthiness for an ode was cast into doubt in the top of the third stanza, when the Georgia starter retired the first two batters he faced before giving up four successive singles to Auburn hitters. The result was a pair of runs to put the home team in a 2-0 hole.

A funny thing happened then; for the first time in too great a while, the Diamond Dogs showed some spark. In the bottom of the third, Luke Stewart led off with a base hit and Travis Parrott reached on a fielder's choice to move the Red and Black first baseman to second. Mike Freeman sacrificed the runners over and a Jonathan Wyatt groundout plated Stewart to cut the Tigers' lead in half.

Although he went 0 for two at the plate on Friday, Mike Freeman at least won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for "Million Dollar Baby."

Auburn wasted no time reclaiming its advantage. Moreau plunked Bennett to begin the fourth frame, then base hits by Ross Smith and Philip Stringer enabled Eric Skinner to plate a run on a popup. This time, the Red and Black had no retort, as a Joey Lewis single was all the offense the home team was able to offer in the bottom of the inning.

Neither team scored in the fifth stanza, although this was not due to a lack of effort on the part of the visitors. Moreau was pulled at the outset of the frame after having surrendered seven hits and three earned runs, at which point Nick Montgomery came on to pitch and proceeded to allow Josh Donaldson, Robert Brooks, and Bennett to scatter a trio of singles amid flyouts by Luke Greinke and Smith, plus a pickoff of Donaldson.

After a Stewart base on balls to lead off the bottom of the fifth frame was squandered when Parrott lined into a double play, Auburn returned the favor in the top of the sixth stanza, as Ben Jones's single to center field was nullified when Stringer grounded to short and allowed the Diamond Dogs to turn two in one play.

Auburn has a designated hitter named Ben Jones. Honestly, some days, this stuff practically writes itself.

The game went to the bottom of the sixth inning with the Plainsmen leading by a 3-1 margin and I won't lie to you: it didn't look good for the home team. However, Wyatt led off with a walk and Ryan Peisel punched a base hit into left field. Gordon Beckham sacrificed the runners over, then Matt Olson dropped a single into the outfield to bring the Bulldog center fielder the remaining 90 feet home. Although the next two Red and Black batters recorded outs, the margin had been narrowed and the Classic City Canines had proven that they weren't vanquished yet.

An error allowed Donaldson to reach first base in the top of the seventh, but no Plainsman managed a hit in the inning, so the Diamond Dogs came back up to bat. Stewart drew a walk to start the proceedings. Parrott singled to move the baserunner to second. Freeman hit into a fielder's choice to advance him to third. A sacrifice fly by Wyatt brought him home . . . and, just like that, in methodical fashion, the home team had manufactured a run, 90 feet at a time, to tie the contest at three runs apiece.

Joshua Fields took the hill in the top of the eighth and did what closers are supposed to do, inducing Bennett to ground out and persuading Smith and Jones to go down swinging. The bottom of the frame produced no additional scoring, although Olson led off with a base on balls and a Lewis single put him in scoring position before a flyout, a strikeout, and a groundout ended the threat.

If, in fact, those are the Auburn right fielder's and the Tiger designated hitter's real names. . . .

Fields went back to work, recording the first two outs in short order before surrendering a base hit to Bruce Edwards and a walk to Greinke. Instead of wilting, the Georgia closer bore down and got Donaldson to pop up, preserving the tie. In the bottom of the frame, the Red and Black started off with a walk for the fifth straight stanza.

Miles Starr, sent in as a pinch runner, stole second base and took third on a wild pitch. Wyatt then walked, taking second on a Peisel groundout. Auburn intentionally walked Beckham to load the bases and bring Olson to the plate. Undoubtedly, the Georgia right fielder hoped to have his at-bat remembered as an heroic act deserving to be recounted with Homeric grandeur. Instead, all he did was draw the walk that plated the game-winning run.

Not all wins are epic, but, especially after a long dry spell, victory always is glorious, even if it is not particularly pretty. The Diamond Dogs committed two errors and tallied only half as many hits (6) as Auburn (12). The offense hardly was explosive; Gordon Beckham, Matt Cerione, and Jonathan Wyatt all went hitless Friday evening.

Admittedly, it wasn't all good.

Nevertheless, the Red and Black did what was required of them to win. The Classic City Canines were patient at the plate, drawing nine walks while striking out just twice. Nick Montgomery and Joshua Fields combined to pitch five scoreless innings and, despite their marked lack of power, the Diamond Dogs finally showed a propensity to generate runs in increments, ending up on the good side of a tight score for the first time since February 27.

As we were reminded in glorious fashion in last autumn's showdown on the Plains, there has never been anything wrong with Georgia that beating Auburn couldn't fix. That is as true on the diamond as it is on the gridiron.

Nevertheless, in the selfsame article quoted at the start of this posting, Kagan told us what experience has taught us:

Giamatti knew the Iliad, too, and as a longtime Red Sox fan he believed that the tragic epic best corresponded to baseball; thus he observed that the game "was meant to break your heart."

Perhaps . . . but not today, Professor. Not today.

Go 'Dawgs!