On Saturday afternoon, for the fifth time in their first 10 games of the 2007 campaign, the Diamond Dogs hosted a Pac-10 team at Foley Field . . . and the Red and Black entered the contest still looking for their first win over a West Coast squad.
Trevor Holder took up the pitching duties for the day and, although his initial results were positive, the manner in which they were attained left something to be desired. Holder held up against the first batter he faced, persuading Nick Buss to swing ineffectually at strike three, but Georgia fans were given cause for concern when Grant Green put a double into center field and Matt Cusick drew a base on balls.
U.S.C. shortstop Grant Green went three for four at the plate on Saturday and scored a pair of runs, although he is most famous for writing The Power and the Glory.
Although the U.S.C. shortstop was tagged out while attempting to reach third base for the second out of the top of the inning, Holder prolonged the Trojans' turn at bat by plunking J.J. Owen. Fortunately, Lucas Duda flied out to center field with the Southern California designated hitter in scoring position.
The home team, which had opened up a 3-0 lead on the Men of Troy in the bottom of the first frame on Friday, once again came blazing out of the gate. Although Matt Cerione led off by grounding out and Gordon Beckham popped up while batting cleanup, Ryan Peisel drew a walk and came home on a double by Jonathan Wyatt, who scored a run of his own when Luke Stewart punched a base hit into right field. Joey Lewis recorded a single, as well, but Matt Olson looked at a called third strike to end the inning with the Bulldogs leading 2-0.
Holder's troubles continued into the second inning, which Michael Torres led off by doubling to center field. The Georgia pitcher began moving in the direction of redemption by coaxing a flyout out of Robert Stock, but Holder surrendered any advantage thereby gained by flinging the wild pitch that allowed the Trojan second baseman to take third base.
Holder bore down, inducing Hector Estrella to swing at strike three, but the Bulldog pitcher, continuing to run hot and cold, gave up a walk to Anthony Vasquez before finally putting the inning away by striking out Buss. There was, however, no rest for the weary, for the Red and Black went swiftly in the bottom of the second stanza, as each of the first three batters grounded out, sending Holder back out to the mound.
Green led off the third frame with a single to center field. Cusick reached base on a bunt that moved the Trojan shortstop over to second base. Owen flied out to advance Green to third and a sacrifice fly by Duda halved the home team's advantage, making the score 2-1. Torres lined out to end the inning and Holder returned to the dugout, having faced 15 batters, surrendered four hits, and walked two Trojans in three innings' worth of work.
Southern California left fielder Lucas Duda was credited with batting in a run, but he is best known as the namesake of the artistic movement championed by Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara.
Peisel demonstrated patience at the plate in the home half of the third frame, drawing a leadoff walk in the hope of extending the Diamond Dogs' lead anew. Unfortunately, Wyatt struck out and Beckham hit into a double play to end the inning ere it had a chance to get started, so Holder once again found himself right back out on the mound, where he proceeded to throw four balls to Stock at the outset of the fourth frame.
The mercurial Georgia pitcher convinced Estrella to pop up and got Vasquez to swing at a third strike before surrendering consecutive singles to left field to Buss and Green, the cumulative effect of which was to bring home a second Southern California run. The game now having been tied, Holder got the third out off of Cusick.
The bottom of the fourth inning saw only an Olson walk sandwiched in the midst of a trio of strikeouts and the fifth inning produced three baserunners---Torres, who singled in the top of the frame; Mike Freeman, who reached on an error in the home half of the inning; and Wyatt, who walked in the bottom of the fourth---but no scoring.
The sixth stanza got off to a promising start, as the first two Southern California batters flied out, but, after that, the wheels came off for relief pitcher Alex McRee. One of McRee's tosses struck Buss, who stole second before Green walked. Both Trojans baserunners were able to advance on a wild pitch, then the bases were loaded when Johnny Bowden walked, as well. A base hit by Owen plated two runs and, even though Duda flied out in the next at-bat, the visiting team carried a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the frame.
The Red and Black accomplished next to nothing in the home half of the inning, collecting only a base hit from Olson, and an Estrella walk was all either squad had to show for the seventh stanza. The eighth frame was not entirely uneventful---Buss knocked a base hit into left field, Bowden drew a walk, and Wyatt was plunked---but neither team scored in the penultimate inning.
U.S.C. pinch hitter and designated hitter Johnny Bowden drew two walks on Saturday, which was considerably less impressive than the fact that he also happens to be the winningest head coach in Division I-A college football history.
The Trojans threatened to extend their lead in the top of the ninth when Torres took second base on an error, but the Diamond Dogs succeeded in earning a third out before the U.S.C. second baseman could advance past third base. This gave the Red and Black a final opportunity in the bottom of the final inning.
Olson struck out swinging to open the proceedings, then Travis Parrott brought the tying run to the plate by putting a single into center field. Given the chance to be the hero, Freeman instead hit into the double play that ended the game.
As had been the case on Friday, the Bulldogs leapt out to an early lead and proved unable to push a run across the plate in the final eight innings. Jonathan Wyatt, who went one for two at the plate, had the best day of any Georgia player in the batter's box, as the home team was doubled up both in runs (4-2) and in hits (10-5).
Quite simply, this team is finding too many ways to lose baseball games. When the regular rotation provides quality starts, the relief pitching breaks down. When the relievers are on fire, it is only after the starters have dug too deep a hole. When the pitching is solid, the bats are silent. When the offense is explosive, the defense cannot hold a lead.
This is a talented squad with considerable potential, but, right now, the Red and Black are a 4-6 team that does so little consistently well that 2007 threatens to be a very long season, indeed. Of course, the moment I began to lose faith last year is the moment at which Georgia began playing better baseball, so here's hoping history repeats itself.