College World Series: After hellish start, could MSU have Vandy right where they want them?
Vanderbilt 8, Mississippi State 2.
No big deal.
Wait, what? Sure, MSU literally had the sky fall on their head in a 1st inning from Hell in Game 1 of the College World Series finals. After a Kamren James homer off Jack Leiter jumped State to a 1-0 edge in the top half of the frame, Bulldog Nation thought maybe it was the night for an upset.
Narrator voice: It was not the night for an upset.
The trouble began when shaky starter Christian MacLeod walked a couple of batters, hit a couple of batters, gave up a single, gave up a double, departed after getting just two outs, and then watched reliever Chase Patrick surrender a 3-run blast to Vandy third baseman Jayson Gonzalez. When the carnage ended, it was 7-1. State gave up 7 runs in an inning exactly once before all season, when they held an 18-3 lead over Arkansas State back on April 13 and got a little sloppy in the 9th inning, still winning 18-10.
Vanderbilt was not Arkansas State, and State wasn’t going to win this game by 8 runs.
But here’s the thing: Game 1 was a horrible matchup anyway for State. MacLeod has struggled throughout the season, particularly in the postseason. He had allowed 19 earned runs in his past 4 appearances, including 4 in 1 1/3 innings against Virginia in his previous start in Omaha. Meanwhile, Leiter wasn’t going to give MSU much room for error. State actually did a credible job working Leiter, driving up his pitch count and getting him out after 6 innings while netting a pair of runs for their trouble. But by then, the game was long gone.
Tuesday is a much better set-up for State. Vandy’s pitching aces will both be watching from the dugout, and the Commodores have struggled to get decent work from a third starter all season. Freshman Patrick Reilly made it through exactly 1 out when he faced MSU in the regular season. He walked 4 batters and allowed 3 runs.
If State can get some decent work on the mound, and pound out enough timely hits at the plate to win Tuesday, then everything changes for a potentially decisive Game 3. State could rush Will Bednar back for that one, and while Kumar Rocker would likely take the mound for Vandy, he probably doesn’t have a ton left in the tank. The plan for MSU has probably always bit to win 1 of the first 2, switch all the pressure to the favored Commodores, and then, when all the chips are down, get a big hit late, as they have for much of the season.
Granted, if the Bulldogs had their druthers, they’d have taken down Leiter on Monday and had an extra game in their pocket. But ever since the cancellation of the third game of NC State/Vandy kept Leiter from having to work on Saturday, this situation was facing the Bulldogs. They look much better for Game 2 than they did for Game 1. And at the end of the day, it’s all about getting to Game 3.
So the worst inning of the season sealed MSU’s Game 1 destiny very, very early. Wouldn’t it be funny if that ended up not really being a big deal?