After Monday night’s elation gave way to Tuesday night’s dejection, I omitted from my postgame report on the second outing of the College World Series finals any hint of cleverness or levity, declining even to break up the text with pictures and captions, as I preferred to confront the reality of the loss and move forward from there.
My report on Wednesday night’s loss will be similarly lacking in superfluous adornments, for an altogether different reason, to which we shall turn anon; for now, though, here is how Fresno State claimed its first N.C.A.A. baseball title (not, I should hasten to add, how Georgia failed to claim its second such championship, for the winners won it more than the losers lost it):
The first frame of the decisive game got underway with Nathan Moreau on the hill in the top of the canto. Danny Muno fouled off three pitches before grounding out to lead off the inning, but Gavin Hedstrom sneaked a single through the left side just beyond the reach of Ryan Peisel’s outstretched glove. After Erik Wetzel sent a long out into right field, Hedstrom was caught stealing and easily thrown out at second.
The home half of the stanza saw Justin Wilson on the mound and he proceeded to retire Peisel and a newly clean-shaven Matt Olson on a strikeout and a groundout, respectively, before surrendering the single to Gordon Beckham that gave each team one hit. Rich Poythress then popped up to end the inning.
Steve Susdorf led off the top of the second canto with a rocket shot off of Poythress’s glove for the fielding error that put a man aboard for Alan Ahmady, who sent a long out into left field. Steve Detwiler then fouled off a trio of pitches before sneaking one over the right field wall for a home run by the narrowest of margins to put the W.A.C. tourney champions up by a couple of runs.
Moreau proceeded to strike out Tommy Mendonca and extract a pop-up from Jake Johnson to limit the damage and bring the Red and Black up to bat in the bottom of the frame. A Muno fielding error enabled Bryce Massanari to reach first base and Matt Cerione singled through the right side to move him into scoring position.
Unfortunately, the Diamond Dogs displayed some impatience at the plate, as first Joey Lewis and then Lyle Allen struck out swinging on three consecutive pitches. Miles Starr fouled off five pitches to stay alive long enough to reach base on a fielder’s choice that saw everyone safe thanks to Muno’s second error of the game.
With the bases loaded, Peisel sent a long ball into center field but came up short, producing the inning-ending out but no runs. Moreau retired the side in sequence on a pop-up, a groundout, and a lineout in the top of the third canto and it initially appeared likely that the Classic City Canines would go three up and three down in the home half of the stanza, as Olson grounded out and Beckham popped up before Poythress singled to give Georgia a 3-2 edge in hits. Massanari fouled off four pitches before striking out to strand the baserunner.
Moreau struck out Wetzel to start the visitors’ half of the fourth frame and, after walking Susdorf on a payoff pitch, he struck out Ahmady, as well. Detwiler then did what Detwiler does, doubling to left center field to score the F.S.U. left fielder, who had taken third base on a throwing error by Lewis.
By the time Mendonca became the third strikeout victim of the inning, both sets of Bulldogs were deadlocked in hits (3-3) and errors (2-2), but the Golden State squad held a 3-0 lead in runs. The bottom of the inning began with the latest inexplicable called third strike on Cerione, but Lewis followed that up with a triple to center field. Allen and Starr both struck out to strand the initial Red and Black run of the night 90 feet from home plate.
Fresno State went three up and three down in the top of the fifth canto, as did Georgia in the home half of the inning. The top of the sixth stanza saw Dean Weaver on the mound. The Red and Black reliever retired the first two batters he faced before surrendering a double to Susdorf on a payoff pitch. With the hits now even again at four per side, Ahmady proceeded to draw a base on balls.
That brought Detwiler, the deadliest hitter in the F.S.U. order, to the plate with two men out and two men on base. For reasons passing understanding, the Classic City Canines elected to pitch to him rather than walk him and he made the Red and Black pay, driving a three-run shot out to left field. Mendonca’s ensuing groundout concluded a canto in which Fresno State took a 6-0 lead.
The Diamond Dogs did themselves no favors in the home half of the frame, in which Poythress and Massanari popped up before Cerione grounded out to conclude a one-two-three inning. Muno sent a two-out single into center field in the top of the seventh stanza, but that hit proved harmless when Hedstrom grounded out on an oddly-timed bunt attempt.
The bottom of the canto began inauspiciously with a Lewis pop-up and an Allen lineout, but Starr reached base on Muno’s latest error and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. Matters began to appear promising when Peisel walked on four straight pitches, but Olson put the ball into center field for the final out of the inning.
Although the eighth frame began with a Wetzel groundout, Weaver plunked Susdorf to put a man aboard for Ahmady, who reached on the fielder’s choice that cut down the Fresno State left fielder at second. Once again for reasons passing understanding, the Diamond Dogs pitched to Detwiler with two outs and, to no one’s surprise, the F.S.U. right fielder put the first pitch he saw into the outfield for the base hit that sent his teammate to third.
Alex McRee came on in relief of Weaver and extracted the pop-up from Mendonca that prevented further damage, yet still the Diamond Dogs found themselves needing to score at least six runs before recording six outs. Beckham did his part, leading off the bottom of the stanza with a solo shot to left field to prevent the shutout, but the next three Classic City Canines all registered outs to keep the score 6-1.
A leadoff single by Nick Hom got the ninth canto underway and Trent Soares was sent in as a pinch runner for the pinch hitter. He promptly stole second base and Danny Grubb advanced him to third in the course of being thrown out at first. McRee struck out Muno, at which point Joshua Fields was brought in from the bullpen for his final appearance in a Georgia uniform.
Fields got his man, throwing two strikes before eliciting a groundout from Hedstrom. Clayton Allison took up station on the hill in the home half of the frame and he immediately surrendered a single to Lewis, who took second base on a Detwiler fielding error. When Robbie O’Bryan drew a walk to put two men aboard with no one out, a rally began to appear possible.
Unfortunately, when Brandon Burke was sent in to close out the game, Muno chose that moment to atone for his previous miscues, snatching up the ball David Thoms sent his way and turning it into a double play. Although Peisel drew a base on balls to keep hope alive, Olson sent Burke’s next pitch---where else?---directly into Detwiler’s glove to give the wrong bunch of Bulldogs the national championship.
As those of you who participated in Wednesday night’s open comment thread know, I came away from Tuesday night’s debacle with a bad feeling and I spent much of the game thinking the Red and Black appeared listless, like they already had resigned themselves to defeat. Like Matt Cerione when arguing the latest bogus third strike call, though, my reaction was impulsive and erroneous.
It was a very even game, with Fresno State holding a slight 8-6 edge in hits. Every batter in the F.S.U. lineup but one was held fairly well in check by the Classic City Canines, as Alan Ahmady, Tommy Mendonca, and Erik Wetzel all were held hitless and Gavin Hedstrom, Danny Muno, and Steve Susdorf each notched one hit apiece.
If Steve Detwiler hadn’t made it to Rosenblatt Stadium on Wednesday night---had the Fresno State right fielder sprained an ankle getting off of the team bus, or had the pain in his thumb gotten the better of him---Georgia likely would have won a 1-0 pitchers’ duel, as Detwiler went four for four with a double, two home runs, and every last one of the six R.B.I. chalked up by the newly-crowned national champions.
While I question David Perno’s decision to pitch to Detwiler in the F.S.U. outfielder’s final two at-bats, that decision did not cost the Classic City Canines the game; it affected only the final margin. As frustrating as it is to know that Georgia was outscored 25-6 in the final 15 innings of the College World Series (after having outscored F.S.U. 12-6 in the first 11 innings of the finals), the simple fact is that their Bulldogs outperformed our Bulldogs.
While Tuesday night’s meltdown was embarrassing, it is tough to criticize a team that came back again and again just to get to Omaha, much less to the finals, for one bad outing. Wednesday night’s setback was no debacle. Nathan Moreau pitched well enough to win and, but for one swing of the bat in the sixth stanza, the bullpen held the line. Fresno State had none of the sorts of explosive innings the West Coast Bulldogs enjoyed the night before.
Credit must be given where it is due: Justin Wilson simply pitched a whale of a game, going eight innings, striking out nine, walking one, allowing five hits, and surrendering one earned run. The Diamond Dogs didn’t play badly; Wilson pitched well, forcing Georgia to strand one in the first, three in the second, one in the third, one in the fourth, two in the seventh, and (after the bullpen had taken over and been bailed out by the defense) two in the ninth.
On Tuesday night, I went to bed angry and disappointed. While the concluding game of the series was nerve-wracking and sometimes frustrating, I will go to bed tonight spent rather than outraged and proud rather than disheartened. You have to tip your cap to Fresno State, a team that got hot at the right time, went on a tear through the tournament, and simply was the better team on the field in the final two games of the season. I congratulate the Golden State Bulldogs on their achievement, which was richly deserved.
Last May, in the aftermath of a bitterly disappointing baseball season in the Classic City, I wrote:
That was a little over 13 months ago and I have been given good cause to come around to the way of thinking at which so many of you quite rightly had arrived already. Although the Diamond Dogs missed reaching the mountaintop by the slenderest of margins, this season truly was their time to shine.
So why no irrelevant pictures and irreverent captions in the aftermath of the College World Series finals? Because, as much as I would like to let loose my inner smart aleck and start mouthing off about how their guys are going home to thumb surgery and raisins while our guys are going home to Athens and gals like Katie Heenan and Lauren Massanari, I don’t want to be glib or clever or cute when attempting to say what needs to be said respectfully and honestly and forthrightly, and that is this:
For rebounding from a season filled with adversity to forge a season filled with triumph, for never giving up the fight and almost always finding the path to victory, for providing excitement and inspiration, for giving your fans dozens of indelible images of leadership and fortitude and the impassioned will to win, for representing your university with guts and class, and for delivering conference, regional, and super-regional championships along the way to a national runner-up finish, I salute Coach Perno and his team, to whom the highest appellation in Bulldog Nation deservedly may---must---be applied.
Gentlemen, you are damn good ‘Dawgs, one and all.