I am always torn when it comes to the annual exhibition game between the Diamond Dogs and the Atlanta Braves. Obviously, it would be an Appalachian State-sized upset if the Red and Black were to get the better of the local National League squad, but, come on, now . . . a college baseball team going on the road and taking on a major league opponent using the wooden bats to which they are unaccustomed? You have to figure that an 8-0 loss is inevitable.
Ryan Peisel, who took over as Georgia's leadoff hitter late in the 2007 season, was the initial Bulldog batter in the top of the first inning and he grounded out to Charlie Morton. Michael Demperio, who hitherto was at the top of the order, hit second and dropped a double into left center field. A Gordon Beckham foulout and a Rich Poythress strikeout left the Red and Black second baseman stranded in scoring position, though.
The Braves wasted no time in building all the lead they would ever need. After Kelly Johnson flied out to lead off the bottom of the frame, Yunel Escobar reached base on an error and Chipper Jones drew a walk. Mark Teixeira's ensuing single plated the Atlanta shortstop, giving the home team a 1-0 advantage on an unearned run. Fortunately, Jeff Francoeur and Mark Kotsay left two of their teammates on the basepaths, allowing the Classic City Canines to get out of the inning without sustaining further damage.
The Diamond Dogs were retired in order at the start of the second stanza and, when Justin Earls was brought in to replace Dean Weaver in the bottom of the inning, he immediately surrendered a base hit to Joe Borchard. Brandon Jones traded an out for a base, sending the Atlanta designated hitter to second. Although Clint Sammons went down swinging, Johnson parked an R.B.I. single in center field. Escobar's subsequent base hit set the stage for a double from the bat of the Braves third baseman to bring two more runs home.
Yunel Escobar went one for two and scored a pair of runs, but I'll never trust him again after the way he treated Jake Gittes over that whole Evelyn Mulwray situation.
Teixeira watched a called third strike sail by, but the National League squad had opened up a 4-0 lead on the strength of a three-run, four-hit second inning. Numerous substitutions at the start of the third canto did not change the results, as a Peisel single was all the visitors had to show for the top half of the inning. Fortunately, Joshua Fields gave up one walk, but neither a hit nor a run, in the bottom of the frame.
Beckham began the fourth stanza with a base hit, but his teammates proved unable to advance him even 90 additional feet, as a Poythress strikeout, a Joey Lewis flyout, and a Matt Olson groundout were all the next three Diamond Dogs were able to produce at the plate. A Sammons single likewise was all the Braves were able to generate against Justin Grimm in the bottom of the inning.
No Classic City Canine made it out of the batter's box in the top of the fifth frame, whereas the home team was substantially more productive at the plate. Following a leadoff groundout by Diory Hernandez, Scott Thorman drew a base on balls and Josh Anderson moved him over to third on a single to right field. Jordan Schafer then scored the Atlanta first baseman with a sacrifice fly.
Anderson took second on a passed ball and Borchard walked, setting the stage for Gregor Blanco, who doubled to right field to tack on two more runs. The three-run, two-hit inning could have been worse for the Diamond Dogs, as Sammons walked and Blanco advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Martin Prado hit into the fielder's choice that got Stephen Brock out of the ill-fated fifth frame.
Gregor Blanco batted in a couple of runs on Wednesday, which isn't bad for a soccer player. (Photograph by Simon Bruty.)
Peisel got the sixth stanza off to a solid start by knocking a base hit into center field and the Georgia third baseman advanced as far as his accustomed position on the diamond on a Beckham single and a Poythress flyout. However, David Thoms struck out and Lewis hit into a fielder's choice to squelch the Red and Black's efforts to dig themselves out of a 7-0 hole.
Alex McRee walked Hernandez and gave up a bunt single to Anderson in the bottom of the inning, but he coaxed strikeouts from Brent Lillibridge, Thorman, and Schafer to strand two and prevent additional scoring. Georgia failed to capitalize on this small victory, as a leadoff walk and an error put Olson on second base with one out in the top of the seventh frame, but there he stayed when the next two Diamond Dogs recorded outs.
After significant position-switching by the Red and Black, Nick Montgomery got the bottom of the canto underway by surrendering a triple to Borchard. Despite strikeouts by Blanco and Prado, Tyler Flowers was able to bring the Braves designated hitter home with a sacrifice fly in an inning in which the Braves lineup featured a distinctly European flavor.
Undaunted, Peisel drove a double down the left field line to start the eighth frame and the Georgia third baseman moved 90 feet closer to home plate on a Thoms groundout. When Demperio struck out and Fields grounded out, it became apparent that the shutout would stand.
On the plus side, if you're held scoreless, they give you a special T-shirt to commemorate your offensive ineptitude.
The Braves had only a lineout, a pop-up, and a flyout to show for their efforts in the bottom of the eighth stanza, giving the visitors a final chance. After Steve Esmonde went down swinging and Lyle Allen grounded out, Matt Cerione belted a two-out single into center field. Whatever minuscule amount of drama this may have generated was squelched immediately when Bryce Massanari flied out to end the proceedings.
The midweek exhibition outing in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., mattered little and counted less, of course, but the afternoon was not without its positive points. Most notably, Ryan Peisel performed admirably in the leadoff spot. Despite facing professional pitching and wielding a wooden bat, the Diamond Dogs' senior leader went three for four at the plate, getting on base as the initial Red and Black batter of the sixth and eighth innings.
All right, maybe that was the only bright spot. The Classic City Canines left more men on base (8) than they collected hits (7). Georgia's designated hitter, Joey Lewis, stranded two of those baserunners in the course of being held hitless in a trio of at-bats. Concerns about the consistency of Bulldog pitching were not assuaged by the contributions to the box score made by Stephen Brock (8 batters faced, 2 hits, 3 walks, 3 earned runs) and Justin Earls (7 batters faced, 4 hits, 3 earned runs).
Still, it was just an exhibition game. We'll know more about this team when the level of competition comes back to earth a bit and consists of something other than top-ranked college squads and major league opposition, but, for now, we in Bulldog Nation are keeping our fingers crossed and counting the days until spring football.