The baseball gods brought their mighty hammer of destiny down hard on the Stanford-Vanderbilt College World Series game last night. In a game that Vanderbilt tried their absolute damnedest to lose, the Commodores still came out on top.
Midway through the fourth inning of this ballgame, Stanford was leading Vanderbilt 4-0. The Commodores committed three errors which accounted for three of those runs. The Vanderbilt coaching staff was furious.
All of a sudden, where there was once nothing but darkness consuming the Vandy baseball team, a fire started to burn. The very next half-inning, Dominic Keegan hit a two-run homer to cut Stanford’s lead in half, and the Commodores wouldn’t commit another error for the rest of the game.
As the game wore on, Stanford held on to their early lead, but by the bottom of the ninth inning, what was once a four-run lead had been whittled down to just one. On the mound for the Cardinal was Brendan Beck, who came in with no outs in the bottom of the seventh — replacing Jacob Palisch, who had just hit a batter to lead off that half-inning.
Beck was the Cardinal ace. Prior to last night’s game, he’d appeared in 15 games and had a record of 9-2 with a 2.89 ERA. Beck displayed his dominance through his first 2.2 innings. He’d faced eight hitters and struck out five, not allowing a single base runner in the process. Vanderbilt, the 2019 College World Series champions, attempting to defend their title (the 2020 CWS was cancelled due to COVID), were down to their final out.
This is why baseball is great. No matter how many runs down you are, no matter how few outs you have left, you can still come back. There is no time limit, as long as there’s no ‘F’ next to the score, any team can win a ballgame. Down 4-3 with two outs, Vanderbilt’s Javier Vaz worked a walk after starting the plate appearance down 1-2 in the count — runner on first. Beck doesn’t normally walk people. Through 106 innings prior to this game, he’d walked just 25 batters — and almost a quarter of those came in a single game at the start of the season against UC-Irvine. Spencer Jones followed Vaz’s walk with an infield single — runners on first and second. Enrique Bradfield singled on the very next pitch. Vaz scored and there were runners on first and third. Two pitches later, Beck sails a breaking ball over his catcher’s head, and Jones breaks for the plate! He scores without a throw! Vanderbilt wins!
The College World Series is praised for its ability to create high-tension, do-or-die type situations. Last night’s game was a clear illustration of that. While a walk-off wild pitch isn’t unheard of in baseball (it’s happened multiple times in Major League Baseball this season alone), but for it to happen on such an enormous stage with the defending champs facing elimination against one of the most consistent pitchers in the country, is a marvel.
I’ve written before that sometimes some teams are just destined to lose games. There’s no rhyme nor reason to it, but it happens. Maybe it was longtime Vandy coach Tim Corbin’s speech in the middle of the fourth. Maybe it was pure dumb luck, but you can’t tell me that something supernatural wanted the Commodores to win this game. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team goes on to win the tournament after this. It would be Vanderbilt’s third national championship since 2014.
The path Vanderbilt must take to get that third title though, is difficult to say the least. They are one loss away from elimination, and must now take down N.C. State, the team that handed Vanderbilt their first CWS loss of 2021 just three days ago, in back-to-back games. It is worth noting that neither of Vandy’s top pitchers — Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker — took the mound in last night’s victory. The Commodores will likely throw Rocker in the team’s first game against the Wolfpack. If Vanderbilt wins that game, we’d likely see a rematch of Monday’s rubber match between Sam Highfill (N.C. State) and Leiter to determine the Bracket 1 winner. That’s shaping up to be the game of the year, and based on how unlikely their victory against Stanford was… I wouldn’t want to bet against Vandy in any game for the rest of the tournament.