The Diamond Dogs claimed an impressive victory over the Crimson Tide on Friday night and collapsed in spectacular fashion against Alabama on Saturday evening, so the stage was set for a series-settling showdown in Tuscaloosa on Sunday afternoon.
At the outset, the Classic City Canines showed no signs of a post-loss hangover following the previous evening's late-night meltdown, as Ryan Peisel led off the first inning with a base hit to right field. Gordon Beckham had no intention of leaving the Georgia third baseman stranded, so he blasted a home run to left field, giving the visiting squad a 2-0 advantage after just six pitches had been thrown.
The Georgia shortstop's two-run shot in the first inning of Sunday's contest was the best start by someone named Gordon since David Lynch's cameo appearance as the hearing-impaired special agent in charge on "Twin Peaks."
After Jonathan Wyatt recorded the game's first out on a fly ball to center field, Rich Poythress dropped a single into left center field, but the Bulldog designated hitter made it no farther than first base, as the next two batters struck out and grounded out, respectively. Dean Weaver then took the mound with a two-run lead and proceeded to surrender a double to Emeel Salem on his second throw to home plate.
The Red Elephants wasted no time in taking advantage of the opportunity presented to them. Brandon May belted a base hit through the right side to bring the 'Bama center fielder home and cut the Diamond Dogs' lead in half. With the tying run now standing on first base, Weaver struck out Alex Avila before hurling the wild pitch that allowed the Crimson Tide second baseman to advance to his usual spot on the field.
Weaver next cut down Kent Matthes on a called third strike. Matt Bentley then flied out to conclude a wild first frame in which the two teams combined for three runs on five hits. This brought Austin Hyatt back out to the mound for the Crimson Tide and he retired the side in sequence to start the second stanza, obtaining a popup, a strikeout, and a groundout in succession.
Alabama starting pitcher Austin Hyatt is located at 208 Barton Springs, on the shores of Town Lake just 12 blocks from the Texas State Capitol Complex.
The Red Elephants returned the favor in the home half of the second canto, in which the only three Alabama batters went not only in order, but in the same manner: a popup, followed by a strikeout, followed by a groundout. Peisel broke out of the pattern to lead off the third frame, dropping a single into left field. This was followed by the Beckham base hit that moved the Georgia third baseman into scoring position.
Wyatt and Poythress proceeded to register consecutive flyouts without advancing the baserunners, so the scoring threat was snuffed out when Matt Olson chased strike three. A base hit by Greg Paiml signaled the start of the home team's turn at the plate and, after Salem struck out looking, May grounded out to move the Alabama shortstop over to second.
Avila was plunked by the first pitch thrown his way and a subsequent passed ball allowed both baserunners to advance, but Matthes' popup left the tying run 90 feet from home plate. The contest proceeded to the fourth frame, which got underway when Matt Robbins fouled out on a payoff pitch. Jake Crane's ensuing double down the left field line went to waste when Joey Lewis and Miles Starr both grounded out in consecutive at-bats.
Georgia second baseman Miles Starr was held without a hit in two at-bats, which brought shame to his entire family, including his aunt, Blaze, and the governor of Louisiana.
Bentley began the bottom of the fourth inning by doubling down the right field line. Jake Smith smacked a single into right field to put runners at the corners. Brandon Belcher's sacrifice fly scored the Alabama first baseman to tie the game, then, after Kyle Moore lined out, the Crimson Tide third baseman took second on a passed ball. A Paiml base hit scored an unearned run before the Red Elephant shortstop was caught stealing to end the inning with the home team leading 3-2.
Georgia had only a Wyatt single to show for the top of the fifth frame and the only 'Bama baserunner of the bottom of the inning came as a result of a fielding error. Olson led off the sixth stanza by dropping the first pitch into center field for a base hit. Blake Cannady's sacrifice bunt moved the Georgia right fielder over to second and Olson took third on a wild pitch. The next two Bulldog batters struck out and popped up to strand the tying run 90 feet from home plate.
Bentley began the bottom of the inning with a leadoff walk, but a flyout and two groundouts kept him from coming around and a pair of two-out walks by Beckham and Wyatt in the top of the seventh stanza went for naught when Poythress became the third Diamond Dog to ground out in the inning.
Alabama first baseman Matt Bentley went one for three and scored a run, which demonstrates the considerable progress he has made since the days when he was nothing more than George Jefferson's bumbling neighbor.
The home half of the frame commenced with consecutive singles by Paiml and Salem. After May walked to load the bases, an Avila single scored two runs and brought Steve Esmonde in from the bullpen. Although the Georgia reliever plunked Smith, he retired the other three batters he faced to keep the score at 5-2.
Olson got the eighth inning underway with a base hit. After Matt Cerione reached on a fielder's choice, Luke Stewart punched the first pitch he saw through the right side for a base hit to move the Red and Black pinch hitter to third. Lewis drew the walk that loaded the bases and brought the go-ahead run to the plate, but an impatient Mike Freeman put the first pitch thrown his way into play and hit into the fielder's choice that saw Cerione thrown out at home. In the next at-bat, Peisel hit into the fielder's choice that ended the threat.
The Crimson Tide went in order in the bottom of the eighth frame, grounding out, fouling out, and flying out in succession. This brought the Classic City Canines back up to bat in the top of the ninth inning for their final chance to overtake the home team. Beckham began the proceedings with a strikeout, but Wyatt knocked a base hit into left field and Poythress drew the walk that brought the tying run to the plate.
The ninth inning featured a level of dramatic tension not seen in these parts since "Reservoir Dogs."
Olson dropped an R.B.I. single into right field to score Wyatt and cut the lead to two runs. A fielding error allowed Cerione to reach first and load the bases for Stewart, who went down swinging to record the second out of the inning. Accordingly, it all came down to Lewis and the Bulldog catcher watched as strike three sailed by him.
I take back everything I wrote earlier about not feeling too terribly badly about last night's outcome. In typical fashion, the Diamond Dogs were shut out for seven straight innings between their initial outburst in the first and their late surge in the ninth. The Red and Black outhit the Crimson Tide by a 12-9 margin and the first five batters in the Georgia lineup (Ryan Peisel, Gordon Beckham, Jonathan Wyatt, Rich Poythress, and Matt Olson) collectively went 10 for 22 and batted in three runs.
Defensively, the Classic City Canines committed only one error and Georgia's starting pitcher struck out four, walked none, and surrendered just two earned runs in four innings' worth of work, which ought to have sufficed.
Of course, Dean Weaver also gave up six hits, including two doubles, to the 18 batters he faced and he recorded five flyouts to only two groundouts, so he didn't look as good on the mound on Sunday as his aunt, Sigourney, did in "GalaxyQuest," but still. . . .
What, then, was the problem for the Red and Black? The answer to that question is what it has been all year. The Diamond Dogs left 14 men on base. The second inning was the only frame in which Georgia did not strand at least one baserunner. More than one Classic City Canine remained on the basepaths at the end of the third, seventh, eighth, and ninth stanzas. In each of the last two cantos, the bases were loaded when the final out was recorded . . . and the Red and Black lost by two runs.
Alabama hardly qualified as an overwhelming opponent. The Crimson Tide's two best hitters of the afternoon, Greg Paiml and Emeel Salem, together went five for nine, but, between them, they only batted in one run. However, in the three-hit, two-run fourth frame that gave them the lead they would not relinquish, the Red Elephants left no men on base . . . and that was the ballgame.
This time, unreliable relief pitching was not to blame. In four innings' worth of work, Nathan Moreau and Steve Esmonde together allowed three hits and two earned runs. The recurring theme of the Diamond Dogs' star-crossed season is that, when the runs come in bunches, the pitching will break down, but, when the defense does its job, the offense will sputter, stranding the would-be winning run in inning after inning. So it was this weekend and so it goes for the Classic City Canines, who had better find some answers before traveling to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech on Wednesday.