Sonny Gray was not just concerned with the score of the game.
Vanderbilt’s sophomore pitcher also kept score with one of his teammates. He figured second baseman Anthony Gomez owed him one after Gomez committed a one-out error in the third inning.
Gray got the next batter to strike out and got out of the inning with a groundout three pitches later. After that, he sought out Gomez in the dugout.
“I told him, ‘I picked you up, now you pick me up later in the game,’” Gray said.
When Kentucky had two runners on – both walked by Gray – with two outs in the top of the sixth, it was Gomez who ended the threat when he made a diving stop on a groundball up the middle and flipped to the shortstop for a force out.
So it was that those two finished even and Vanderbilt evened its mark in Southeastern Conference play with a 7-0 victory before 2,193 in the first of a three-game weekend series at Charles Hawkins Field.
It was the first shutout for the Commodores (19-4, 2-2 in SEC) against a conference opponent since a 9-0 victory April 10, 2009 at Arkansas, and the first at home since a 16-0 victory over Mississippi State in 2008.
“I thought there was some good defense,” coach Tim Corbin said. “… I thought Gomez’s play up the middle with to outs was a big stop. It could have added to the pressure of the moment.
“Sonny was pretty good. He allowed three walks, but at least they didn’t hit him too much.”
Gray allowed just four hits and three walks in seven full innings as he outperformed Kentucky starter Logan Darnell, a Goodpasture School graduate and a former teammate of Gray’s during summer ball.
Darnell lasted 5.1 innings during which he allowed seven runs (five of them earned) on nine hits. He struck out three and walked four.
“I’ve known Logan because of baseball for a long time,” Gray, a Smyrna High School product, said. “He pitched well (Friday) night. We were able to come up with some clutch two-out hits, which we as a staff were able to limit, and I think that was the biggest turning point in the game.”
Five of the Commodores’ seven runs, including the first three, were driven in with two outs beginning with Andrew Giobbi’s RBI single in the first. Ten of their 11 hits were singles. The exception was Brian Harris’ leadoff double in the fourth.
Corey Williams relived Gray and allowed one hit and one walk in the final two innings.
Every one of Kentucky’s runners – the five who got hits, the four who were walked and the one Gomez allowed to get on – was left on base. The Wildcats (16-6, 1-3) stranded at least one in seven of the nine innings, including two each in the fifth, sixth and eighth.
“The two-out hit was kind of what we lived off,” Corbin said. “We kind of nickeled and dimed our way to runs.”
It all added up to a victory – and a balanced ledger for Gray and Gomez.
• The coaches will explore the possibility of completing the series with a doubleheader Saturday.
With a high probability of rain forecast for Sunday, the schools have the option to play two nine-inning games on Saturday. The first will begin at the regularly scheduled time of 2 p.m.
“I’ll wait until the morning and look at the forecast again before I decide what to do,” Corbin said.
If the decision is made for a doubleheader, season-ticket holders will need tickets for both in order to attend both. University officials recommend checking vucommodores.com before heading to Hawkins Field.