Sonny Gray got out of trouble when he picked off two runners in the first inning. It was a pick-me-up from his Vanderbilt teammates after the second that might have made the biggest difference Friday.
The junior right-hander did not allow a hit and gave up one walk over the next four innings. Then back-to-back two-out doubles by Curt Casali and Anthony Gomez in the bottom of the sixth produced the game-winning run as the third-ranked Commodores beat No. 8 Stanford 2-1 in the opener of three-game series at Hawkins Field.
“After the second inning I was kind of down in the dumps,” Gray said. “I came back in the dugout and all the guys were there. ‘Stay with it. Stay with it. We got you. We’re going to put something together.’
“The dugout really picked me back up. Without them I don’t think I would have been able to go six innings like I did.”
Vanderbilt (6-0) scored its first run in the bottom of the first, but Gray gave it back in the second when he allowed a lead-off single and then walked three, the last two after a pair of strikeouts.
The Cardinal (3-2) had their opportunities in the first inning as well. Leadoff hitter Tyler Gaffney reached on an error, but Gray picked him off. Jake Stewart followed with a single, but he too was picked off.
“He’s got a good pickoff move just because he’s an athletic, quick-footed, fast-twitch kid,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said “I think he’s always had [a good move to first]. He’s probably learned how to shorten up his arm and get it out of his hand a little quicker.
“Those were difference-makers. When you talk about that first inning – that was kind of a weird inning, but he got out of it with those two picks.”
Gray finally came out of the game after the sixth, at which point he had thrown 99 pitches. He allowed three hits and four walks but struck out six as he improved to 2-0 on the season. Three relief pitchers kept Stanford at bay over the final innings.
All five of Stanford’s hits were singles.
Vanderbilt had just eight hits in its own right, but four of them were doubles. Casali, Gomez and Connor Harrell all had two hits apiece.
More importantly, none of the Commodores got picked off.
“They’re momentum shifters, absolutely,” Casali, the catcher, said. “When you can take runners off base without even throwing a pitch it’s huge for the pitcher’s confidence and it gets our defense’s feet going again.
“… Stanford is a great club. They’re really good. They have some really good players, a solid pitching staff and they have good team speed. Ground balls are not a sure thing with these guys.”
Then again, if they do get on base there’s no guarantee they will stay there.
• The series continues with Game 2 at 2 p.m. Saturday and concludes with the final game at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Taylor Hill and Grayson Garvin, respectively, are scheduled to start the next two games for Vanderbilt.
• Navery Moore pitched the ninth inning and earned the save, his second of the season. He has pitched three innings in three appearances and has not allowed a run.