It was as close to a buzzer-beater as a baseball game could possibly have, and although Tim Corbin wasn’t thrilled with the fluky, anti-climactic conclusion to the most recent chapter of his team’s heated rivalry with Florida, he wasn’t about to cheapen the significance of the final score.
In the end, the No. 2 Commodores beat the clock and beat out just enough throws to earn a comeback series win over Florida, Vanderbilt’s first since 2009, with a wild 5-4 victory in seven innings on Sunday afternoon, a game shortened by a Sunday travel curfew mandating that no new inning begin after 3:15 p.m.
“That was a personal game for us, just because losing Friday night, we don’t like to do that,” said senior right fielder Mike Yastrzemski, who scored the game-winning run. “In the past three years, I’ve been involved in series with Florida which we’ve lost. And that goes back to Connor Harrell and Jack Lupo. They’ve never won a series against Florida.”
Vanderbilt trailed 4-2 when play was suspended for 49 minutes in the top of the fifth inning due to lightning in the area and scraped out one run in each of the final three innings after the delay. Freshman pinch-hitter John Norwood beat shortstop Casey Turgeon’s throw for an infield single, allowing Yastrzemski to slide in safely under the tag of catcher Taylor Gushue and score the game-winning run from second base in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Then, with mere seconds until the travel curfew went into effect, Spencer Navin worked the count full and fouled off multiple pitches, while the Hawkins Field crowd erupted as the scoreboard clock switched to show 3:15. Moments later, Navin struck out to end the inning and the game.
“It was a weird game — it didn’t feel right,” Corbin said. “It was a win, I get it, I understand it, but it feels awkward still to end the game cheering at 3:15, and we end the game on a strikeout and walk off. I’ve never been a part of something like that.”
Sophomore right-hander Brian Miller closed out the Gators to earn his third win of the season, giving up two hits over his two innings of relief work after the rain delay.
“We had to get out and move and try to get as many innings in as possible so we could try to make up that two-run deficit,” Miller said. “Us pitchers, Coach (Scott) Brown really preaches pace, so it just kind of helps us out because it gets the umpires on board, the fielders on board, everyone on board. It almost makes it more fun pitching.”
Vanderbilt starter Philip Pfeifer was tagged for two long solo home runs off the bats of Taylor Gushue and Justin Shafer and left the game after scattering six hits and four earned runs over three innings. Pfeifer wasn’t the only starter to exit early. Florida’s Eric Hanhold was pulled for closer Johnny Magliozzi in the first inning after walking Rhett Wiseman to load the bases, ending after just 0.2 innings of work.
Then tempers flared after the Gators’ new pitcher struggled with control problems of his own. Magliozzi walked Navin on an inside pitch, and the two exchanged words as Navin trotted to first, with Magliozzi walking toward Navin as he shouted. Players emerged from both benches and were held back by their coaches at the foul lines while the umpires and Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan calmed Magliozzi down enough to retire the side without further incident.
“Maggliozzi’s a very competitive kid, and he’s friends with a lot of kids on our team,” Corbin said. “I think it’s one of those things that comes up when you’re a rival with another team. As close as (O’Sullivan) and I are together, it’s uncomfortable because it’s competitive. He coaches a very competitive set of kids, and I know we do here too.”
After Pfeifer was pulled in the fourth inning, Commodores brought in reliever Carson Fulmer, who settled down from a wild start and overcame the weather delay to offer up two scoreless innings. Fulmer issued a five-pitch walk right away to Brady Roberson that scored Florida’s fourth run and brought the visiting dugout to life, but the freshman struck out the next batter and got Turgeon to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
Florida’s bullpen was done in by mental and physical mistakes in the wet conditions. After catching Tony Kemp looking at an outside fastball for strike three, Magliozzi walked Yastrzemski and induced a bouncing ground ball to third base off the bat of Connor Harrell that appeared to be prime double-play material. However, third baseman Zack Powers’ throw bounced low and wide of second base and into right field, allowing Yastrzemski to take third.
Right-hander Ryan Harris was then brought on to face Vince Conde and was called for a balk after stepping toward home without throwing the ball, bringing Yastrzemski home to cut Florida’s lead to 4-3 through five innings. In the sixth, a wild pitch out of Harris’ hand sent Navin from second to third base with two outs. Pinch-hitter Xavier Turner bounced a ground ball that Turgeon appeared to have trouble getting out of his glove, and Navin scored on the infield single to tie the game.
In the bottom of the seventh, with the game running up against the time limit, Yastrzemski came through with a leadoff double off of Harris. After Conrad Gregor was intentionally walked and Conde popped out to shallow center, the Gators brought on Daniel Gibson to face Norwood, who hit the game-winning single.
“John (Norwood) ran as hard as he could down the line, and you can’t ask anything more from him,” Yastrzemski said. “It’s frustrating in that situation to not hit a missile line drive, and then when you ground out, it shows a lot of heart and a lot of guts to dig your 90 still.”