June 7, 2014
It happened so suddenly. The wild swings of emotions that fans are so accustomed to in sports had spectators on their feet watching with sweaty palms, hanging on every pitch Saturday at Hawkins Field. And then with one swing of the bat, it was over.
The walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning by Stanford's Wayne Taylor off reliever Adam Ravenelle left the yard in a hurry, and sent the sellout crowd to the exits.
All the positive mojo Vanderbilt had built up over the previous two innings, where the Commodores had scored three runs to tie the game, was wiped away in just a few seconds.
"I thought we were going to win that ball game," Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin said. "I didn't think there was any way we weren't going to win that ball game. I thought we were just a hit away."
As it turned out, Stanford - the designated home team - was also just a swing away.
There are few things in sports that compare to the walk-off home run. Buzzer-beating baskets, game-winning field goals or touchdowns as time expires are a few that stand out, but with each, a build up to seemingly the inevitable typically occurs.
In situations such as Saturday, a walk-off can occur at the unlikeliest of times.
The series tying home run came with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning in a game that saw Vanderbilt claw its way back into it with two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth.
The momentum was all in Vanderbilt's favor.
"It was the first time we had the momentum back since the second inning," outfielder Rhett Wiseman said, "which is a great feeling because of the trust in our bullpen. And with how the bats were working at that time in the game (we felt) that it was our game, and it was."
For the first seven innings, the Commodores were mostly held in check by Stanford starter Cal Quantrill, who surrendered just six hits and two earned runs.
"I thought Quantrill was good," Corbin said. "I thought Quantrill was very good. We are very knowing of him; we recruited him. He's a special pitcher. He can really decelerate the baseball in any count. You've got to credit him because he kept them in the game for very long. I'm glad he is done."
Quantrill returned for the eighth inning with his pitch count already in excess of 100, and Vanderbilt began to take advantage of it. After his 117th pitch, which resulted in a walk to Bryan Reynolds that put runners on first and second with nobody out, Quantrill was lifted.
A.J. Vanegas entered the game, and Vanderbilt would load the bases and score two runs without hitting the ball out of the infield. The Commodores pulled within two runs, but it could have been even closer, as Vanderbilt left the bases loaded.
In the ninth inning, Vanderbilt again loaded the bases, but was only able to score one run to tie the game.
The two innings seemed to provide Vanderbilt with all the momentum, but it also left Commodore fans asking what if?
"We did not get the timely hit that we needed to secure the game," Corbin remarked. "We were put in that position because of the walk, but we did not get the timely hit that they did and really that is the tale of the game."
The timeliest of hits came off the bat of Wayne Taylor, who singled in a run in the seventh inning off Carson Fulmer before hitting his walk-off blast.
"What are you going to do?" Wiseman asked. "A guy takes a 95 MPH fastball and hits it out of the park. It was the first home run Adam Ravenelle had given up in his college career. That's baseball."
The loss sets up a winner-take-all game at 2 p.m. Sunday. Stanford will again be the home team by virtue of winning the coin toss.
Even though the Commodores lost Saturday's game, the players and coaches were not hanging their heads. Instead of sulking in defeat, they embraced the positives for how the team rallied to tie the game.
"I feel like we feel accomplished in a way," Fulmer said, "because we did have a three-run deficit and we came together and were like, 'OK, we are going to come back and win this.' Unfortunately we didn't come out on top, but I feel like as a team, we are in the right mindset. We are ready to go and ready come back tomorrow and get a W."
The game may not have ended how Vanderbilt had hoped, but after a furious rally to tie the game by playing the style that got them to where they are, the Commodores feel like the momentum is all on their side.
"As funny as this may sound, we ended the game with a ton of momentum on our side, so we will take that into tomorrow," Wiseman said.