David Perno's Diamond Dogs arrived in Knoxville for Friday night's outing against the Volunteers in what was to be the Red and Black's 21st contest of the season but only Georgia's second road game of 2007. The Big Orange began the week sporting a 13-9 record and the question fretful fans throughout Bulldog Nation had rattling around in their noggins was, Can the Classic City Canines sustain their recent momentum against a challenging conference foe on the road?
Jonathan Wyatt began the process of answering that inquiry by leading off the inaugural inning with a home run to give the Diamond Dogs a 1-0 lead ere the echo of the national anthem had faded. Unfortunately, the next three Georgia batters struck out to prevent further fireworks and bring the top of the first frame rapidly to a close.
The bottom of the opening canto commenced with Nathan Moreau on the hill for the visitors from the Peach State and, although the Bulldog hurler gave up a base on balls to J.P. Arencibia, no other Volunteer reached base and Moreau struck out two of the other three batters he faced.
Thus commenced a pitchers' duel between Moreau and Tennessee's James Adkins. Rich Poythress walked in the top of the second stanza, but no other batter for either team in the inning accomplished anything other than an out. In the third frame, Ryan Peisel drew a walk and stole second base, whereas the Vols' Andy Simunic knocked a base hit into left field before being picked off, but neither team generated a run in the inning.
In addition to being a fine pitcher, James Adkins has the weight-loss method for you!
The fourth frame saw a bit more in the way of offense, as Poythress received a base on balls, taking second on a single by Matt Robbins, and Arencibia registered a double in the home half of the inning, but, once again, neither team succeeded in scoring. The fifth inning appeared destined for a similar fate when Mike Freeman led off by striking out, but then Wyatt took matters into his own hands once more.
The Georgia center fielder laid down a bunt single and took second base on an error. Peisel moved the runner over to third with a flyout, setting the stage for Gordon Beckham to make the score 2-0 with a base hit to right field. Tennessee responded in the bottom of the inning, when Danny Lima led off with a triple and Cody Brown followed up a Shawn Griffin strikeout with a walk.
Jarred Frazier's bunt single scored the Volunteer second baseman and moved the Big Orange third baseman to second. After Simunic flied out, Tony Delmonico singled and was out at second, but not before Brown made it home to tie the game. The Red and Black promptly went to work to take back the lead, starting off with a walk by Joey Lewis to begin the sixth inning.
Back-to-back base hits by Poythress and Robbins scored the Diamond Dog catcher, but their teammates were unable to bring the other baserunners home. The home team's turn at bat in the bottom of the inning consisted of a flyout, a strikeout, and a popup.
In addition to being a fine designated hitter, Matt Robbins has the self-help method for you!
The seventh stanza began with the Red and Black going three up and three down and the bottom of the same frame began similarly, as Moreau convinced Lima to fly out and struck out Ryan Jones before walking Brown. At this juncture, Coach Perno pulled his starter after a little under seven innings' worth of work. Moreau had faced 26 batters, striking out seven and walking three, while giving up five hits.
The pitching responsibilities were turned over to Stephen Dodson, who proceeded immediately to surrender a two-run shot to Jeff Lockwood, giving Tennessee a 4-3 advantage. Simunic's ensuing groundout hardly seemed to matter. The top of the eighth inning was uneventful, the highlight being a Poythress walk sandwiched amid strikeouts.
The Volunteers looked to build on their lead in the bottom of the inning, as the Big Orange got two men aboard straight out of the gate. Delmonico walked and Arencibia singled, but neither player succeeded in coming around to score. Accordingly, it all came down to the top of the ninth stanza, in which Travis Parrott struck out looking, Clayton Cain struck out swinging, and Wyatt grounded out to end with a whimper the game he had begun with a bang.
James Adkins faced 34 batters in eight innings, striking out twice as many men (10) as he walked (5) and surrendering two earned runs on half a dozen hits. Three Diamond Dogs had decent days at the plate: Rich Poythress (one for one, three bases on balls), Matt Robbins (two for four, one R.B.I.), and Jonathan Wyatt (two for five, one R.B.I., two runs). The remainder of the lineup, though, went a collective one for 22 with one R.B.I. and one run.
Relax, Burt; my problem isn't with the 22, it's with all those ones.
Giving credit where credit is due, though, I attribute much of the Red and Black's lack of offensive success in Knoxville to James Adkins's stellar pitching performance. After surrendering a home run on the first pitch he threw, the Tennessee hurler settled down and kept the game in hand until his teammates could give him the run support he needed to get the win. Over the course of the contest, the Big Orange offense suffered from many of the same sporadic power outages that plagued the Classic City Canines' attack all evening (and have done so all season), so it isn't as though the visitors failed to keep up with an explosive attack by the home team.
While I am a fan of Coach Perno and I am glad Georgia has him in the dugout, I place the blame for the loss squarely at his feet. Nathan Moreau had a 3-2 lead and had recorded two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The walk he surrendered just before being pulled came after Moreau had retired five straight batters, two of them on strikeouts.
Over the course of the contest, the Classic City Canines' starting pitcher gave up just three bases on balls. After walking Arencibia in the bottom of the first frame, Moreau struck out the next batter he faced. After walking Brown in the fifth frame, Moreau gave up a bunt single and induced the next batter to fly out to center field. Had the Bulldog starter been permitted to finish the seventh inning by pitching to Lockwood after giving up the second base on balls to Brown, he might have responded as he did after his previous two walks and the Diamond Dogs might have won the game.
We will never know that for sure, but we have been given an uneasy inkling regarding the answer to the question on every Georgia baseball fan's mind. After losing their fourth one-run game of the season, the Red and Black will have to get back on track in Saturday evening's outing in order to avoid squandering the boost in confidence they deservedly gained from last weekend's sweep of Auburn.