George Will once wrote that the beauty of being a pessimist was that one was always either proven correct or pleasantly surprised. So it was with Georgia's Sunday afternoon series finale against Tennessee.
Despite roaring into Knoxville riding a four-game winning streak, the Diamond Dogs limped into their third game with the Volunteers after a late-inning collapse on Friday and a 10-2 crushing on Saturday that was a microcosm of the Red and Black's star-crossed 2007 campaign.
The beginning of the afternoon outing offered promise of a familiar refrain. While Jonathan Wyatt led off by grounding out, his teammates picked up the slack, as Ryan Peisel, Gordon Beckham, and Matt Olson all walked to load the bases. Rich Poythress stepped up to the plate with three men on and one man out, so, naturally, the Bulldog first baseman struck out looking. It was par for the course when Joey Lewis grounded out to end the scoring threat.
The home team went quietly in the bottom half of the inning, then the Red and Black got two men aboard in the top of the second frame, as Jake Crane was hit by a pitch and Wyatt moved him to second on a single. Unfortunately, these favorable turns of events were interspersed amid flyouts by Matt Robbins and Mike Freeman, so, when Peisel hit into a fielder's choice, another scoring opportunity went to waste.
I know I've used the Mike Freeman/Morgan Freeman joke before, but there's a "Seven" reference at the end of this posting, so I'm breaking it out again.
The Volunteers were not nearly so careless with their chances at the plate. Yan Gomes led off the bottom of the second stanza with a solo shot to left field to give the Big Orange a 1-0 lead. Not content with that, Tennessee added a Danny Lima double and a Cody Brown home run to give the home team a three-run advantage at inning's end.
Beckham began the third frame with a base hit and Olson followed with another. A single by Poythress again loaded the bases, only, this time, Lewis drew the walk that plated a run. It was the fourth base on balls surrendered by Nick Hernandez in the course of the contest, so the Tennessee starter was taken from the game after two innings' worth of work, during which he faced 15 batters and gave up four hits.
Robbins grounded into a double play in the ensuing at-bat, but Olson scored on the play before Crane grounded out to conclude the Diamond Dogs' turn at the plate with the home team clinging to a 3-2 advantage. The Volunteers set about building on their lead in the bottom of the inning, which commenced with a Tony Delmonico double. After J.P. Arencibia popped up, the Big Orange shortstop took third base on a wild pitch, enabling a Gomes single to bring home the fourth run of the afternoon for the Vols.
Stephen Dodson replaced Justin Earls on the mound to close out the inning for the Red and Black. With one out left unrecorded in the third, Earls had faced 14 batters, allowed five hits, and given up four earned runs. The top of the fourth frame consisted of a groundout, a strikeout, and a flyout, enabling the Volunteers to go back on offense in short order.
This the home team did with gusto. Jeff Lockwood led off the bottom of the fourth stanza with a double. The next two Big Orange batters flied out to center field, but the second of these moved the Tennessee right fielder over to third. From there, Lockwood was able to score on an Andy Simunic single before Delmonico grounded out to strand the Volunteer center fielder on the basepaths. Nevertheless, the host squad's lead now stood at 5-2.
The Diamond Dogs sought to have something to say about that, as Beckham began the fifth frame with a double, but, one flyout and two strikeouts later, the Georgia shortstop remained on second base and the visitors had nothing to show for his efforts. Fortunately, but for a Gomes walk, the Vols did no additional damage in the bottom of the inning.
To the sixth stanza the contest went and, despite their frustrating propensity for leaving would-be runs in scoring position, the Red and Black again undertook to cut into the Tennessee lead. Robbins led off with a base hit and took second on a passed ball. After Crane flied out, Freeman moved the Georgia left fielder to third with a single.
When Wyatt reached base on an error, Robbins came around to score. Peisel hit into a fielder's choice, leaving runners at the corners for Beckham, who belted out a double for the second straight inning, this time plating two runs in the process. Olson grounded out to leave the score snarled at five runs apiece.
Still five-five . . . for the moment.
The bottom of the inning passed swiftly, with a groundout, a strikeout, and a popup comprising the entirety of the Volunteers' offensive output. The first two Bulldog batters recorded outs in the top of the seventh frame, but Robbins made things interesting by punching a base hit into left field and swiping second base. After Crane walked to put two men aboard, Freeman grounded out to preserve the tie.
The home team, however, showed no such hospitality. An error put Simunic aboard and Delmonico sacrificed him over to second base. An Arencibia single scored the Tennessee center fielder and a Gomes double advanced the Volunteer catcher to third. After Julio Borbon was intentionally walked, Dodson was pulled in favor of Joshua Fields.
The change of hurlers provided no measurable impediment either to the Volunteers' explosion or to the Bulldogs' implosion. Lima's sacrifice fly scored Arencibia and a wild pitch by Fields enabled both remaining baserunners to advance. A Lockwood single scored Gomes. A Brown double scored Borbon. A Shawn Griffin double scored Lockwood and Brown.
With the score now 11-5, Fields was yanked, having faced four batters, allowed three hits, and recorded one out. This brought Ryan Woolley to the hill and the latest Diamond Dog reliever succeeded at his assigned task, inducing Simunic to ground out to second base.
If Ryan Woolley keeps up the good work, Sam the Sham may have to come out of retirement to pay musical tribute to him.
The Red and Black went three up and three down in the top of the eighth inning and a leadoff single by Delmonico in the bottom of the frame was all the Vols had to show for their final turn at bat. Poythress managed to collect a one-out single in the top of the ninth and the Georgia first baseman advanced to second on a wild pitch, but no other Bulldog batter reached base and the game ended in the manner that had seemed foreordained since the visiting team failed to capitalize on the opportunity afforded it in the first inning.
Leadoff hitter Jonathan Wyatt, cleanup hitter Matt Olson, and designated hitter Joey Lewis collectively garnered only two hits in 12 at-bats, but, as a team, the Diamond Dogs matched their hosts fairly evenly. Georgia managed 10 hits, as compared to the Volunteers' 13, and both teams committed two errors.
The difference is that only one Bulldog hitter tallied more than one R.B.I., whereas a trio of Volunteers batted in two or more runs apiece. A look at the Big Orange lineup at the outset of the contest reveals that the first eight batters in the nine-man Tennessee order all crossed home plate at least once over the course of the afternoon. By contrast, Jake Crane, Joey Lewis, Rich Poythress, and Jonathan Wyatt all failed to score in the game.
Ryan Woolley faced six batters and surrendered one hit. The three Georgia pitchers preceding him conceded a dozen hits to 36 batters. The Vols' Nick Hernandez and Lance McClain, on the other hand, together faced 36 batters in their first seven innings' worth of work, allowing nine hits and only two earned runs.
After the game, David Perno had two things to say:
The view I take of Coach Perno's statements is exactly opposite from the view William Somerset took of the Ernest Hemingway quotation at the end of "Seven"; I agree with the first part.