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Bullpen Surrenders 5 Run Lead, Vanderbilt Walked off in College Station 8-7

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Sometimes, the most important job of a baseball manager is to know when the guy on the mound doesn’t have it.

AFLW Rd 5 - Carlton v Collingwood
All of us after the 9th.
Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Heading into the bottom of the 6th, Vanderbilt was in total control. Patrick Raby had battled through 5 scoreless innings—matching Asa Lacey frame for frame. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled. He surrendered 3 hits and 3 walks, but what really got the pitch count up was aTm’s laudible “foul off everything that’s not your pitch” approach. Ethan Paul had recently solved the mystery of Asa Lacey, and had provided Raby with a 5 run cushion (a 3 run dinger in the 5th, and a 2 run single in the 6th), as well, so at 101 pitches, it was understandable for Corbs to make the call to the pen.

Here’s the thing: we have an absurdly deep and talented bullpen. He could have made the call for either of Mason Hickman or Kumar Rocker (though that he didn’t get either up at any point indicates one of them will be on the bump in the rubber game). Rather than run down all the options available to Corbin, suffice it to say that every arm was available save for Drake Fellows and Tyler Brown (as Brown went 2 and 23 to close out Friday’s game).

He went with Jackson Gillis, which was a fine call... until it wasn’t. Gillis K’d the first batter swinging... until he didn’t. The score card called it a wild pitch, but this one was on Philip Clarke. Gillis never recovered from there, and surrendered 2 runs on a hit, a walk, and a wild pitch, while recording only one out.

With the score 5-2, Corbs made the right call to go to the pen again. And it worked... until it didn’t. Freshman RHP Ethan Smith and his unorthodox double-kick delivery got us out of the 6th with no more damage done. Following a Martin 2 run bomb that restored the lead to 5, Smith got us through the 7th unscathed, as well.

That really should have been it, though, as Smith was not exactly hitting his spots with precision. Beyond that, many of those were high stress pitches in high stress situations. The freshman had done the job, and Corbs could easily have had another reliever ready for the 8th. Instead, Smith was back on the mound, and he just didn’t have it. He got the first batter to fly out to DeMarco, but then he walked both Coleman brothers on 9 pitches. Corbs then went to the pen for sophomore lefty Zach King.

Again, at this point, all the moves are defensible. Could Corbs have gotten Gillis a batter sooner? Yes. Could Corbs have shaken Smith’s hand and told him he had performed admirably, but was done after the bottom of the 7th? Also yes. In fact, with the amount of well rested arms we had available in the pen at that time, I’ll say he should have. Still, with a 5 run lead, it was defensible.

Here’s where everything began to unravel. First, I question why Corbs did not have a RHP warming up next to Zach King. Because he didn’t, he brought in the lefty to face the right handed hitting Ty Condel. King promptly plunked him, loading the bases. Not optimal.

Right off the bat, it was brutally obvious to me (and everyone watching the game with me) that King just didn’t have it yesterday. It happens. King is a fantastic swingman for us, and will surely be instrumental in our future success. Yesterday, though, he didn’t have it. He struggled to locate, and didn’t have the feel for his fastball nor his off speed pitches. In short, it was not his day, and Brownie and Corbs needed to realize it.

They didn’t.

The man at the plate with the bases loaded was weak-hitting RH PH Sr. Jonathan Ducoff. Again, Corbs needed to have a RHP up for the platoon advantage. Either Kumar Rocker or Mason Hickman would have to be held for Sunday’s start, but not both of them. Hell, if you don’t want to waste either for one batter before going to Jake Eder to close things out, I would understand that, as well. Still, he had sophomores Justin Willis and Erik Kaiser, as well as freshmen Austin “Big Walnut” Becker and Chance “The Pitcher” Huff.

Corbs stuck with King. If I squint hard enough, I can see the reasoning. Other than Hickman, King has the most experience of the pitchers listed above. He also has been pretty good this year, and has clearly earned Corbs and Brownie’s trust. (Stops squinting)... nope. You have to trust your eyes. King didn’t have it. Period.

King surrendered a 2 run single to Ducoff, bringing the game within striking distance at 7-4. At that point, the cameras kept going over to Jake Eder warming up in the pen. Clarke and Brownie visited the mound. The camera panned back to Eder—looking warmed up. There were men on 1st and 2nd, with the tying run at the plate. Eder would have to get a 5 out save. He had done so on more than one occasion already this year. As for the batters on, Eder sports a team-leading 0.65 WHIP. He and Tyler Brown have been the high intensity shut-down pitchers for us all year. That should have inspired all the confidence needed to bring him in. Brownie and Clarke left the mound.

I turned to my friend and said, “They’re just buying a but more time. King will either toss one over to first, or step off, and then Corbs will get out.” The camera panned to Jake Eder again, as if it was all a forgone conclusion.

King stayed in. He walked Blaum on five pitches to load them up. At no point did he look remotely in control.

The camera panned back to Eder, 100% ready to come in.

King stayed in. Blake tripled to CF. The game was tied. Corbs and Brownie were directly responsible.

When King was on the mound to start the 9th, I was at a loss.

Then we lost.

I’m lost.

As you all know, Tim Corbin is a godsend to Vanderbilt University. I will never stop praising him for what he has turned this program into, his leadership, his building up young men into leaders, his scouting eye, his roster construction, the men he hires to coach with him, and his firm yet fair hand regarding discipline (see Austin Martin being benched 4 games for showing up late to class). He should be coach for life, then AD when he retires (if he wants the gig), he should have a statue erected for him on the day he retires, and the Stadium should be named after him.

Yesterday, he lost us the game.

Both of these things are true.

We will still have a ton of arms ready for action today at 1pm in the rubber match. Let’s see what he does with them.