Friday evening found the Diamond Dogs in the Bluegrass State for the opening contest of a three-game weekend set with the Wildcats and the first inning got underway with a base hit by Ryan Peisel. Despite the auspicious start for the Red and Black, the Georgia third baseman advanced no farther than first, as Jonathan Wyatt flied out and Gordon Beckham grounded into the double play that brought the home team up to bat. Already the writing was on the wall.
Stephen Dodson began his tour of duty on the mound by persuading Mike Brown, Keenan Wiley, and Sawyer Carroll to ground out in sequence in the bottom of the inaugural frame. The Classic City Canines likewise went three up and three down in the top of the second stanza.
Raquel Welch, who brought the Diamond Dogs good luck in their last two outings, proved ineffectual on Friday night.
Dodson retired the first two batters in the home half of the canto before walking Tyler Howe on four straight pitches. The Kentucky designated hitter was left stranded when Matt McKinney flied out to right field, but the ease with which Howe received a free pass to first base foreshadowed bad things to come.
In any event, the Bulldogs came back up to bat and Joey Lewis led off the third inning with a base hit. Travis Parrott put the first pitch he saw into play, hitting into the fielder's choice that cut down the Red and Black catcher at second. After Mike Freeman flied out, Peisel drew a base on balls on a full count to put the Georgia left fielder in scoring position. Unfortunately, that is where he remained when Wyatt went down swinging.
After Ryan Wilkes began the bottom of the third with a flyout, Antone DeJesus put a 2-0 pitch into left field for a triple. This enabled Brown to bring home the first run of the game with a groundout. Wiley's ensuing groundout concluded the home team's turn at bat with the Wildcats leading 1-0.
Rich Poythress's walk in the top of the fourth frame went to waste when Beckham struck out, Matt Olson lined out, and Matt Robbins hit into a fielder's choice. Kentucky went back to work in the bottom of the canto, commencing with Carroll's leadoff double to right center field. Sean Coughlin put the first pitch he saw into play, grounding out to advance the Wildcat first baseman to third.
Brian Spear put a base hit up the middle to score Carroll and Howe's subsequent walk put the U.K. second baseman in scoring position. After McKinney fouled out, Wilkes dropped an R.B.I. single into right field, scoring Spear before Howe was caught in a rundown and put out at third base.
After Lewis grounded out to open the visitors' half of the fifth inning, Parrott put down a bunt single and scored when Freeman doubled down the left field line. A Peisel walk was followed by a Wyatt single. Aided by Wilkes's throwing error, Freeman and Peisel both scored. Following a Beckham groundout, Wyatt came home on a base hit by Poythress. Olson then became the third Diamond Dog to ground out in the top of the stanza, but not before Georgia had taken a 4-3 lead on the home team.
Wiley, Brown, and DeJesus each grounded out in sequence in the bottom of the frame and, upon returning to the plate, the Red and Black appeared as though they intended to pick up where they had left off in the previous inning. The sixth canto commenced with a first-pitch single from the bat of Robbins, but Lewis grounded into a double play to clear the basepaths and Parrott grounded out to end the inning.
Carroll and Coughlin began the home half of the sixth stanza with a lineout and a strikeout, respectively, but Spear registered a base hit in the next at-bat. Howe worked the count full before putting the ball into play and a throwing error by Freeman put runners at the corners. With the tying run standing 90 feet from home plate, McKinney flied out to right field.
Freeman went down on three straight pitches to start the seventh inning and Peisel put the third pitch he saw into play, grounding out in the process. Wyatt watched a pitch sail by, believing it to be ball three, but he was surprised to learn that he had struck out looking due to an expansively-interpreted strike zone that already had gotten John Cohen, the Wildcat coach, ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
Justin Earls was sent out to the mound to pitch the home half of the inning for the Classic City Canines. In six stanzas' worth of work, Dodson had given up five hits to the 25 batters he had faced, striking out a pair of Wildcats but surrendering a trio of earned runs and a couple of walks. The Georgia reliever coaxed a groundout from Wilkes and a lineout from DeJesus before getting Brown to ground out to short for the fourth time in the game.
The Diamond Dogs were retired in order in the top of the eighth frame and matters began rapidly unraveling in the home half of the stanza. Earls got ahead of Wiley before plunking him on an 0-2 count and allowing the Kentucky left fielder to take second base on a wild pitch. Eight of the Georgia hurler's next nine throws to home plate were called balls, as Carroll and Coughlin walked to load the bases.
This got Earls pulled from the game and replaced by Joshua Fields, who allowed Spear to work the count full before coaxing a popup out of the Wildcat second baseman. A sacrifice fly to left field by Howe scored Wiley to tie the game at four runs apiece, but McKinney fouled out to leave the go-ahead run at second base.
Kentucky pitcher Chris Rusin, who had pitched the first eight innings for the home team, returned to the mound in the top of the ninth canto and promptly retired the first batter he faced. After that, though, Lewis took Rusin to a full count before being awarded first base on a walk and Parrott punched the first pitch he saw through the left side for the single that moved the go-ahead run into scoring position and brought Aaron Lovett to the mound in relief of Rusin, who had faced 35 batters and allowed eight hits.
Luke Stewart was sent to the plate as a pinch hitter and he lost his duel with Lovett, working the count full before taking a called third strike. Peisel's subsequent single to center field produced a play at the plate in which Lewis was tagged out to keep the score snarled at 4-4.
Wilkes began the home half of the final scheduled stanza by striking out, but DeJesus drew a walk on five pitches. Brown went down on the latest in a series of controversial called third strikes before the Wildcat center fielder took second base on a wild pitch. Wiley thereafter grounded out to send the game to extra innings.
When I tell you that this ends badly, I don't want you think I mean that the way Grover means it when he says there's a monster at the end of this book. I mean this ends badly.
Wyatt led off the top of the 10th by walking on four straight pitches. Beckham turned Lovett's next pitch into a sacrifice bunt to send the Bulldog center fielder to second before Poythress took what he thought was a ball but home plate umpire Fred Cannon deemed to be strike three. After Olson was walked intentionally, Jake Crane was awarded first base on a catcher's interference.
With the bases loaded, Lewis punched a single into left field to score a pair of runs, giving the Diamond Dogs a 6-4 lead and allowing the Red and Black to double up the home team in hits (10-5). Parrott swung at the first pitch he saw, hitting into the fielder's choice that brought the Wildcats to the plate.
Fields threw two pitches to Carroll at the outset of the home team's turn at bat, producing the flyout that put Kentucky in the position of needing to record two runs before registering two outs. Coughlin fouled off several pitches before drawing a walk on a payoff pitch and Spear followed that up with a two-run shot to right field on an 0-2 count, giving the Wildcats their sixth run on their sixth hit and tying the game anew.
Trevor Holder was brought out to the mound to force an 11th inning and he induced Howe to strike out swinging before throwing one pitch to McKinney and producing a flyout. The Diamond Dogs had nothing to show for the top of the second bonus canto, but Wilkes began the bottom of the frame with a double down the left field line.
DeJesus's sacrifice bunt moved the Kentucky shortstop to third, but, after Brown walked, Wiley lined into the double play that stranded Wilkes 90 feet from victory. This set the stage for Beckham, who led off the top of the 12th by putting the first pitch he saw over the right field wall to give Georgia a 7-6 lead. Poythress followed that up with the base hit to center field that ended Lovett's evening.
How bad an ending are we talking about here? We're talking about an ending as bad as the series finale of "Twin Peaks" here.
James Paxton assumed the pitching responsibilities for the home team and he persuaded Olson to ground into a double play. Although this cleared the basepaths, Paxton immediately put a Bulldog aboard, hitting Crane with his very next pitch. The hurling duties then devolved upon Brock Baber, who got Lewis to hit into the fielder's choice that concluded the visitors' turn at the plate.
The bottom of the 12th inning began with a loud out as Carroll sent a 3-2 pitch to the wall, narrowly missing the solo shot that would have tied the game. Holder then lost the ability to find the strike zone, as he walked Coughlin on five pitches, walked Spear on four pitches, walked Howe on four pitches, and walked Jason Kipnis on four pitches to bring home the tying run. From that point, it was a foregone conclusion that the Wildcats would win, but, for the record, Wilkes put a 3-2 pitch through the right side for the run-scoring base hit that gave Kentucky the 8-7 victory.
What is there to say, really? The Red and Black went to extra innings . . . and lost. The Classic City Canines played a one-run game . . . and lost. The Diamond Dogs outhit the opposition 12-8 . . . and lost. David Perno's squad was held scoreless in eight of the first nine innings . . . and lost. Georgia gave up five earned runs in the last five innings . . . and lost. The memory of Bulldog Nation runneth not to a day when one or more of those things could not truthfully be said of two-thirds of the squad's ill-fated outings.
The extra-inning meltdown on the mound that capped off the collapse was so comically awful that it cried out for Harry Doyle to do the play-by-play. With all the reliability of a sunset, this team found a way to lose a game it should have won.
Where do we go from here? On the very night that Georgia captured its third straight N.C.A.A. gymnastics championship by beating top-ranked Florida for the second straight day to end the Gators' seemingly unbroken string of recent national titles and underscore the commitment to excellence exhibited by the Georgia athletics program and demonstrated by Damon Evans, the Diamond Dogs gave us cause to wonder about the direction of the baseball program under Coach Perno. It is well past time for this team to begin turning around a season that hasn't been one thing after another . . . it's been the same thing over and over.