After losing on Friday and winning on Saturday, the Diamond Dogs came into Sunday’s series-settling outing at Vanderbilt knowing that everything was on the line. With the opportunity before them to clinch the conference crown, the Red and Black managed to outduel the hard-charging Commodores, although the deciding contest was not without its share of drama.
The initial inning got off to a promising start when Ryan Peisel led off the top of the frame with a base hit up the middle, but the Georgia third baseman was thrown out at second on Matt Olson’s ensuing first-pitch single. Gordon Beckham sent Nick Christiani’s very next pitch into right field for a flyout and Rich Poythress struck out to strand the Bulldog right fielder.
Nathan Moreau elicited strikeouts from the first two Vandy batters he faced in the bottom of the canto, but Pedro Alvarez sent the first pitch he saw down the right field line for a double and Ryan Flaherty drew a walk immediately thereafter. Fortunately, Alex Feinberg struck out to prevent either baserunner from making additional headway.
The visitors’ half of the second stanza began with the fielding error by Alvarez that allowed Bryce Massanari to reach base safely. A base hit by Lyle Allen and a flyout from Joey Lewis moved the Red and Black designated hitter as far as third, so, when Matt Cerione reached on a fielder’s choice, Massanari scored an unearned run. Miles Starr’s subsequent double brought two more home before Peisel singled to plate the Bulldog second baseman. After an Olson double advanced Peisel as far as third, Beckham sent the sacrifice fly to left field which scored the Georgia third baseman.
I’m pretty sure I’m not ruining the surprise for anyone by letting you know that these T-shirts are available for a reason.
A first-pitch double by Poythress brought Olson the rest of the way around and brought Massanari up to bat for the second time in the inning. He struck out to conclude a six-run, five-hit, one-error canto and bring the home team to the plate for the bottom of the stanza. Undaunted by the Diamond Dogs’ early outburst, Shea Robin led off with a double down the left field line and, after Andrew Giobbi flied out, Steven Liddle returned a single up the middle to plate the Commodore catcher.
A base hit by Brad French followed by a wild pitch from Moreau put runners at second and third, enabling David Macias to score a run with a single down the left field line. The Vanderbilt center fielder was thrown out at second, so only one ‘Dore was aboard when Dominic de la Osa drove a home run to left field. Alvarez’s ensuing groundout wrapped up a five-hit, four-run frame.
The Classic City Canines came right back in the top of the third canto, commencing with Allen’s leadoff single to left field on a payoff pitch. After the Georgia left fielder stole second and Lewis struck out, Cerione smacked a two-run shot to right field. The next two Bulldog batters registered outs, but the visitors had gone out in front by an 8-4 margin.
The Commies went three up and three down in the bottom of the inning, as did the Red and Black in the top of the fourth frame. Moreau’s first pitch in the home half of the stanza was returned up the middle by Giobbi for a base hit, but the next three Vanderbilt batters were unable to advance him. A first-pitch single by Massanari to open the visitors’ half of the fifth canto likewise went to waste when Allen lined into a double play and Lewis struck out to conclude the proceedings.
Vanderbilt designated hitter Andrew Giobbi went one for four on Sunday and failed to drive in a run, but he remains a fan favorite for such works as "Madonna and Child Enthroned" (circa 1310).
Following a home half of the frame in which the Commodores managed only to sandwich an Alvarez single in the midst of a trio of flyouts, the top of the sixth stanza got underway with a Cerione single to left center field. Starr’s first-pitch bunt attempt produced the fielder’s choice that saw Cerione put out at second before Peisel returned the first pitch thrown his way for a base hit.
The Commies then switched pitchers and Taylor Hill’s second throw to home plate was driven to right field by Olson for the home run that made the score 11-4. A subsequent Beckham single came to naught, as Poythress went down swinging and the Georgia shortstop was cut down at second. The home team squandered a leadoff double by Robin in the bottom of the inning, as the next three batters generated only outs.
Chase Reid came on to pitch the visitors’ half of the seventh stanza for Vanderbilt and he began his stay on the mound by giving up a base hit to Massanari. Allen successfully put down a first-pitch bunt to put two men aboard for Robbie O’Bryan, who singled through the right side to load the bases. Cerione singled up the middle to score Massanari, but Starr flied out and Peisel grounded into a double play to prevent the Diamond Dogs from extending their advantage.
The Red and Black turned the pitching duties over to Justin Grimm to start the home half of the frame and he extracted outs from the first two batters he faced before conceding a triple to Alvarez and a first-pitch R.B.I. single to Flaherty. Feinberg thereafter grounded out to prevent additional damage from being done.
Georgia relief pitcher Justin Grimm had a rough couple of innings, in which he gave up four hits, one walk, and four earned runs to the ten batters he faced. In his defense, however, his ball control actually isn’t bad for a guy whose hands are made of orange rocks.
A two-out walk by Poythress in the top of the eighth inning appeared likely to yield another run when Adam Fuller doubled down the right field line in the next at-bat, but Allen’s first-pitch flyout stranded the Georgia first baseman at third. The Diamond Dogs’ failure to take maximum advantage of their scoring opportunities in the game’s late frames opened the door for the home team, which got its comeback attempt underway with a leadoff walk issued to Robin in the bottom of the canto.
Even though Giobbi lined out, Liddle sent the first pitch he saw into left center field for a base hit and French grounded out to advance both baserunners and bring the top of the order back up to the plate. A base hit by Macias scored a pair of runs and brought Dean Weaver to the mound, but the Bulldog reliever’s first pitch to de la Osa produced a run-scoring double and the single subsequently surrendered to Alvarez plated one more. By the time Flaherty struck out, the Commies’ four-hit, four-run frame had closed the gap to 12-9.
Mark Lamm became the fourth and final Vanderbilt hurler of the day at the outset of the visitors’ half of the ninth stanza and he got the inning underway by giving up a base hit to Jake Crane. The Red and Black catcher swiped second after Cerione popped up and he took third on Starr’s sacrifice bunt, but Peisel then grounded out to strand an insurance run 90 feet from home plate.
That brought the home team to the plate and Joshua Fields to the mound for the bottom of the ninth canto, which was as predictable as it was nerve-wracking. Jonathan White popped up on a payoff pitch and Robin flied out to center field. With the ‘Dores down to their final out, Fields walked Giobbi on four straight pitches, allowed the Vandy designated hitter to advance to second, and gave up an R.B.I. single to Liddle. French came up to the plate representing the tying run and, like clockwork, Fields struck him out on an 0-2 pitch.
Inherent in the nature of being a baseball fan is a temperamental inclination to view the glass as half-empty; as noted by the late major league baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, the sport whose professional season begins with the verdant rebirth of spring and ends with the withering away of autumn is "meant to break your heart." So, it would seem, is the case with Sunday’s game, in which the Diamond Dogs held an 11-4 lead after six stanzas before suffering a power outage and being outscored to the tune of 6-1 in the final three frames.
That is not how I choose to see it. The Classic City Canines undeniably allowed ten runs on 16 hits, but Nathan Moreau went six innings and held the opposition scoreless for five of them. After the 29 pitches thrown by Justin Grimm produced no strikeouts, a walk, and four earned runs, Dean Weaver and Joshua Fields combined to throw 29 pitches of their own, which yielded two strikeouts, one walk, and a pair of earned runs.
While the partial bullpen breakdown is cause for concern, it is hard to complain about a Georgia effort that produced 20 hits. The Commodores not only committed more errors (1-0), they left more men on base (8-7), and the Red and Black got solid production out of Ryan Peisel (3 for 6, 1 R.B.I.), Matt Olson (3 for 5, 3 R.B.I.), Bryce Massanari (2 for 4), Lyle Allen (3 for 5), and Matt Cerione (3 for 5, 3 R.B.I.).
The Diamond Dogs found a way to win a defensive struggle on Saturday afternoon then they turned right around and found a way to win a slugfest on Sunday afternoon. Georgia’s starting pitchers went deep into the game on both days and, despite losing the initial outing of the series, the Red and Black came roaring back to claim victory in the series. With three conference games remaining and a league ledger of 19-7-1, the Classic City Canines could break the school record for S.E.C. victories and they have clinched the conference championship. As is appropriate on Pentecost Sunday, the team that showed the greater spirit was the one wearing red.