Georgia's struggling baseball team found itself on the road on Friday night for the opening round of a three-game set with Ole Miss in Oxford. The Diamond Dogs came into the game trailing a five-game losing streak and facing a team against which the Classic City Canines hadn't won a series away from Athens since 1989.
The Red and Black went in order in the top of the first inning, tallying a pair of strikeouts and a groundout. The Rebels came up to bat in the home half of the frame determined to show the visitors how it was done. Jordan Henry led off by grounding out, after which Justin Henry drew a base on balls, Zack Cozart dropped a double into left field to put two baserunners in scoring position, and Cody Overbeck brought home a run on a sacrifice fly. A Georgia error allowed a second run to score before Logan Power struck out to end the inning.
After a Logan Power at-bat, a Marvel Comics reference was inevitable. It was simply a question of whether I went with Wolverine or Luke Cage.
It was an inauspicious start for the Classic City Canines, who began the second stanza trailing 2-0 on the road to a bunch of guys with much cooler-sounding names than theirs. Nevertheless, the visitors were determined to put up a fight. Although Rich Poythress led off by flying out, Matt Olson and Ryan Peisel registered back-to-back base hits to put runners at the corners. They were left stranded by a Luke Stewart flyout and a Joey Lewis groundout, but at least the Red and Black had shown some spark.
Unfortunately, there was a good deal more punch in Ole Miss. An Andrew Clark leadoff groundout was followed by a Kyle Mills double and a two-run shot to right field by Zach Miller. Once Brett Basham flied out, Jordan Henry walked and made it as far as third when Nathan Moreau committed an error on a failed pickoff attempt. Justin Henry scored the Rebel right fielder with a base hit. After Cozart tacked on another single, Overbeck flied out to end the inning with the home team holding a 5-0 advantage.
After an uneventful third frame in which no player for either team reached base, Jonathan Wyatt led off the fourth inning with a base on balls, but three consecutive flyouts left him stranded at first. The bottom of the stanza began with a bang when Miller belted out a home run to right field for the second time in the contest. Mississippi accomplished little else in that turn at bat, collecting only a meaningless single by Justin Henry, but the Rebs still led by a 6-0 margin heading into the fifth frame.
It was at that point that the dormant Georgia offense at long last awoke from its slumber. Stewart was hit by a pitch to open the inning and a base hit by Lewis moved the Bulldog designated hitter into scoring position. The next two visiting batters recorded outs before Gordon Beckham walked to load the bases. A Wyatt single brought two runs home, cutting the deficit to 6-2 ere a Poythress strikeout ended the Red and Black's turn at bat.
Georgia designated hitter Luke Stewart went one for four with a run and an R.B.I., but, man, did he ever mess up by letting Rachel Hunter get away from him!
At that point, Moreau's day was done. The Diamond Dogs' starting pitcher had gone four innings and faced 21 batters, surrendering five earned runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out one. Steve Esmonde took over on the mound and, while he gave up a base hit to Clark, he retired each of the other three batters he faced in succession.
Georgia returned to the plate in the top of the sixth stanza with renewed vigor. Olson, Peisel, and Stewart opened the inning with three straight singles to generate a run and chase Ole Miss starter Will Kline from the hill. When Justin Cryer came on in relief of the Rebel pitcher, he immediately surrendered a base hit to Lewis, bringing another run home. Cryer then bore down, inducing Mike Freeman to line into a double play and persuading Travis Parrott to pop up to prevent additional scoring, but the home team's lead had been narrowed to 6-4.
The only excitement to the bottom of the inning came in the form of a single and a stolen base by Jordan Henry, but Esmonde retired the remainder of the side to put the Red and Black back on the offensive in the top of the seventh stanza. Beckham led off with a flyout, but Wyatt drew a walk and took third on a base hit by Poythress.
This caused Cryer to be taken from the game and replaced by Scott Bittle, who promptly gave up a home run to Olson to give the Diamond Dogs a 7-6 lead. The next two Georgia batters grounded out and flied out, respectively, to bring Trevor Holder to the mound to pitch the bottom of the inning.
Mississippi pitcher Justin Cryer faced six batters and gave up two earned runs while tallying no strikeouts. Also, his sitcom with Charlie Sheen is really, really bad.
Cozart led off with a base hit to center field to keep things interesting, but Holder coaxed a flyout from Overbeck in the ensuing at-bat. Power punched a single into left field to move the Mississippi shortstop over to second and give the home team the lead in hits (11-10), although, thankfully, the Rebels still trailed in runs.
When Clark struck out, Alex Kliman was brought in as a pinch hitter and he drew the walk that loaded the bases for Fuller Smith, who popped up to close out a nerve-wracking seventh frame and begin an eighth inning that appeared at first that it would offer no such anxious moments.
The Diamond Dogs went three up and three down in the top of the frame before the first two Rebel batters registered outs in the home half of the stanza. Justin Henry then parked a base hit in center field to bring Cozart to the plate. The Ole Miss shortstop previously had gone three for four and he now represented the go-ahead run. Fortunately, a worrisome at-bat ended favorably for the Red and Black, as Cozart grounded out to strand his teammate at first.
The Diamond Dogs came up to bat in the top of the ninth canto holding the narrowest of leads and they proved unable to improve upon their situation, as the first three batters struck out, flied out, and struck out in succession. This brought Joshua Fields to the hill for the intended purposes of closing out the contest and redeeming his most recent performance, in which he blew the save, the lead, and the game.
Joshua Fields simply isn't the closer he was last year. Also, contrary to popular belief, he isn't married to Scott Bakula, either; that's Chelsea Field, not Joshua Fields.
These intended purposes were not well served when Fields surrendered a leadoff single to Overbeck, for whom Evan Button was inserted as a pinch runner. Power traded an out for a base on a ground ball that advanced Button to second. With the tying run now in scoring position, Clark flied out but failed to move the runner over, so it fell to Kliman to capitalize on the Rebels' final guaranteed opportunity.
After the pinch runner took third base on a passed ball, the Mississippi designated hitter punched through the single that tied the game and assured the home team of no worse than extra innings. When JoJo Tann was sent in as a pinch runner and caught stealing, the first free frame got underway.
No Bulldog batter got out of the box in the top of the 10th, but the Rebels had only a base hit by Jordan Henry to show for the bottom of the inning, so the contest proceeded to the 11th stanza. A two-out single and a stolen base by Parrott created some excitement without creating any runs, so Ryan Woolley got the nod in the home half of the frame. After Cozart flied out, a base hit by Button put the winning run aboard, but Power proceeded to line into the double play that ended the budding threat.
The Diamond Dogs were sat down in sequence in the top of the 12th and the only Ole Miss baserunner in the bottom of the frame got there by being plunked. Peisel drew a leadoff walk to get the 13th inning underway and Jake Crane sacrificed him over to third. Lewis then put the ball into play to bring the Georgia third baseman the rest of the way home and give the Red and Black an 8-7 advantage. The Bulldog catcher was caught stealing and Freeman grounded out to bring the home team back up to bat. The Rebels arrived at the plate to find Iain Sebastian staring them down from atop the mound.
This Sebastian may or may not have traveled with his father, John Cabot, but, unlike some other Sebastians I could name, he never gave up a lead against Ole Miss.
Ole Miss ostensibly found this sight less than intimidating, as Jordan Henry led off with a single and advanced two additional bases on the third Georgia error of the night. The Rebel right fielder's older brother brought him home with a sacrifice fly that tied the game. Cozart drew a base on balls in the next at-bat before taking second on a Button single. Power's subsequent double scored the Mississippi shortstop to end the game.
It's hard to know how to feel after a game like this. On the one hand, the Bulldogs battled back from a 6-0 deficit and, despite being outhit (19-11) and committing a trio of errors, the Red and Black still took a pair of late leads and succumbed in extra innings. On the other hand, a furious rally was squandered by suddenly shaky pitching and the power outage that gripped the Diamond Dogs for the first four innings resumed its hold on Georgia's silent bats from the eighth inning onward.
In the end, it was what we have come to expect, only in even more heartbreaking fashion. The Classic City Canines fought valiantly but once more came up short, dropping yet another one-run decision in familiar fashion.