It was a busy but productive week for the Diamond Dogs, who came into Friday evening's outing sporting a 10-7 record (following a 2-4 start). The Classic City Canines were the winners of four straight contests, including a pair of conference road wins over Arkansas last weekend. Georgia hosted the division rival Volunteers for the first of a three-game set at Foley Field.
Tennessee's Andy Simunic led off the inaugural canto with a base hit off of Trevor Holder and the Volunteer second baseman advanced as far as third when Kentrail Davis reached on an error. Although Cody Brown grounded into a double play, Simunic still came around to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Shawn Griffin grounded out to end the inning.
In the home half of the frame, Ryan Peisel led off with a single and stole second base. After Michael Demperio struck out looking, Gordon Beckham hit a home run to left field to give the Red and Black a 2-1 edge. Even though Rich Poythress and Joey Lewis each drew a walk immediately thereafter, strikeouts by Matt Olson and Bryce Massanari left them stranded.
The top of the second stanza commenced auspiciously for the Diamond Dogs, as the first two Volunteer batters each recorded outs. However, Jarred Frazier walked, P.J. Polk punched a base hit into right field, and Cody Grisham was plunked to load the bases. Holder got out of the jam by persuading Simunic to fly out to right field.
U.T. left fielder P.J. Polk went two for three on Friday night, drove in the Vols' only earned run, and served as governor of Tennessee and as president of the United States.
After the home team had nothing more to show for the bottom of the inning than a Peisel walk, Tennessee went three up and three down in the top of the third stanza. This brought the Bulldogs back up to bat and Beckham began the bottom of the canto with a base on balls. A Poythress single moved him into scoring position and a passed ball allowed both baserunners to advance one more.
Lewis and Olson each popped up in his at-bat, but another passed ball scored an unearned run before Massanari went down swinging to end the inning. Georgia had opened up a 3-1 advantage, but already the Red and Black had left four men on base. In the top of the fourth frame, a Yan Gomes single to center field was followed by a Jeff Lockwood flyout and a Frazier strikeout. Polk thereafter singled to center field, as well, and, after Grisham reached, Simunic struck out looking to strand three.
Lyle Allen began the bottom of the inning with a double and Matt Cerione sacrificed the Bulldog left fielder over to third before taking second himself on a passed ball. Allen scored on Peisel's groundout, but Demperio and Poythress each flied out to keep the Red and Black from taking greater than a 4-1 lead.
Following a fifth stanza in which neither team produced a baserunner, Gomes led off the sixth canto with a base hit to right field. Lockwood walked to bring the tying run to the plate, but Frazier hit into the fielder's choice that cut down Gomes. After a wild pitch by Holder allowed both remaining baserunners to advance, Polk grounded out to score Lockwood. Tanner Moore then grounded out to keep the score 4-2.
Tennessee pinch hitter Tanner Moore's primary contribution to Friday's contest was to teach his teammates to swear like stevedores, a skill he learned as a youngster when playing for the Bad News Bears.
Thanks to an Allen pop-up, a Peisel groundout, and a Demperio flyout, the Diamond Dogs had only one hit to show for the bottom of the sixth inning, but that hit mattered a great deal, as Cerione sent a solo shot out to center field to re-establish the home team's three-run advantage.
Justin Earls was called upon to pitch the top of the seventh frame, relieving Holder after the Georgia starter had surrendered one earned run in half a dozen innings' worth of work. At that juncture, each team had committed one error and each team had registered five hits. Earls retired the side in sequence.
Beckham, who had been walked intentionally in the fourth inning, led off the bottom of the seventh with his second home run of the game. Poythress proceeded to draw a base on balls and Lewis moved the Bulldog first baseman to third with a double to right field. This was enough to get Steve Crnkovich yanked after surrendering seven hits (including a pair of doubles and a trio of home runs) and a season-high six walks in what was to be his first loss of the year as the pitcher of record.
Joey Rosas took over the Tennessee pitching duties and performed admirably under the circumstances, as Olson and Allen went down swinging, while Massanari hit into the fielder's choice that put Poythress out at home. No Volunteer reached base in the top of the eighth frame and a Peisel walk was all the Diamond Dogs had to show for the home half of the canto.
Don't worry; this game has a happy ending . . . just like when those danged dirty hippies got shot at the end of "Easy Rider."
Earls returned to the mound in the top of the ninth inning with his team holding a 6-2 lead. Down went Frazier, as the Tennessee designated hitter struck out swinging to lead off the stanza. Polk was then plunked and Danny Lima moved the Volunteer left fielder over to third with a double.
When the Volunteers managed to put another man aboard to load the bases, it was time to turn to Joshua Fields, who picked up his fourth save of the season by striking out the two batters he faced. This brought Fields's season-long strikeout total to 21 in a little over eight innings' worth of work. Opposing teams have yet to score against the Georgia closer in 2008.
The pitching was solid throughout the game, as Trevor Holder twice got out of bases-loaded jams and neither reliever allowed a run. Although there were such unpleasant surprises at the plate as Michael Demperio's dismal night (0 for 5), Gordon Beckham continued on his recent tear, going two for three with three R.B.I., two walks, and two home runs. The Georgia shortstop now has 13 home runs on the year, including four multi-homer games, and his average has been boosted to a healthy .519.
Even when stranding multiple baserunners, the Diamond Dogs are starting to make S.E.C. wins look, if not routine, at least not out of the ordinary, which is a refreshing change from last year. Despite not taking advantage of several opportunities, Georgia scored in five different innings to build a lead that held up in the end and the Classic City Canines went about their business methodically, both in the batter's box and on the mound. It was a workmanlike performance, which is about as good a compliment as you can pay to a team that, all too recently, struggled to do well the day-to-day deeds that must be done if a baseball club is to be successful.