Tim Corbin’s signal to Aaron Westlake only specified that Vanderbilt’s clean-up hitter get the ball to the right side. No mention was made of how to do it.
So in the bottom of the seventh of a tie game, Westlake, who hit a two-run home run in the first, laid down a bunt to the first-base side and successfully moved Jason Esposito to third with one out.
On the very next pitch Curt Casali singled up the middle and drove in Esposito for the game-winning run as the Commodores defeated Arkansas 4-3 before 2,192 at Hawkins Field in the opener of their final regular-season series.
“(Westlake) did that on his own – that big kid did that on his own,” Corbin said. “… I did not ask him to do that. I just wanted him to hit the ball over to the right side. But you know what? That was a great team inning of baseball right there.”
Esposito started the inning with a single on a 0-1 pitch. He immediately stole second and got himself into scoring position. Westlake’s bunt got him even closer.
Then Casali, who came in with a season-high streak of four straight games with at least one RBI, promptly made it five in a row.
“Anytime your clean-up hitter is going to but over your three-hole hitter to third base, you have to get the job done,” Casali said. “Fortunately I got a good pitch to hit and was able to get it up the middle and get the run home.”
Westlake’s home run – he tied Esposito for the team lead with nine – gave No. 16 Vanderbilt (40-13, 16-10 in the SEC) an early, but short-lived lead. Arkansas (38-16, 16-12), ranked 14th, responded with three runs in the top of the second against Sonny Gray.
Casali scored the tying run on Bryan Johns’ two-out double in the fourth, and Gray kept the Razorbacks at bay through the eighth inning, his longest outing since April 9. He retired 10 straight before he allowed a pair of runners to reach base with two out in the eighth. He got out of that inning and ended his day with a ground ball to third.
Chase Reid pitched the ninth and got his first save.
“We had a chance to win going into the seventh, and we played great baseball in the bottom of the seventh inning to manufacture that run,” Gray said. “We were just able to finish the game strong. After the second inning, I really thought we played a lot better.”
• Esposito came into the contest having reached base in 15 straight plate appearances and extended it to 17 – one short of the NCAA record – with a double in the first and a single in the third.
The streak ended in the fifth when he took a called third strike on a 2-2 pitch.
The record of 18 straight times on base was set in 2002 by Shaun Larkin of Cal State Northridge.
• The start of the game was delayed roughly two and a half hours by rain. Play began at 8:36 p.m. and play went uninterrupted for 2:43.
“We’ve been dealing with some tough weather conditions,” Corbin said. “I was just glad we got to do this and didn’t get boxed out in the fourth or fifth and had to pull a suspended game situation. That wouldn’t have been any fun.
“At least we know we got one in. Hopefully the weather will cooperate (Friday) night. I think it will.”
• Friday is ‘Senior Day’ for Vanderbilt baseball. Seven players and one student manager will be recognized for their contributions in a pregame ceremony set to begin at 5:45 p.m.
The seven players include fifth-year seniors Andrew Giobbi and Brian Harris, who were part of the 2006 recruiting class, which included Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty and Brett Jacobson, among others.
“I see (Harris) and Giobbi as being two of the great ones out of that No. 1 recruiting class,” Corbin said. “…You have two of those guys who have been here for five years and have kind of held our team together this year and have provided us 10 years of experience in the middle of the field.”
• Vanderbilt has won seven straight against Arkansas and has outscored the Razorbacks 56-21 over that stretch. … The Commodores have won 40 games for the fourth time overall under Corbin and the third time in the last four seasons. … Harris was hit by a pitch for the 32nd time this season, which extended his NCAA lead in that category.