OMAHA, Neb. -- Five runs aren’t a ton in in the game of baseball. But in Omaha, it basically guarantees you a win.
Vanderbilt hung a three-spot on UC Irvine in the fifth inning to reach the magic number of five to remain undefeated in the College World Series with a 6-4 win Monday night.
See, Vanderbilt became the 28th consecutive team to win at the CWS when scoring five or more runs. When Vanderbilt tied the game at 4 in the top of the fifth, it was as if we were playing at the local sandlot -- next run wins.“We were opportunistic -- started out with the short game, scratched some runs and were able to get a couple big hits later with Zander [Wiel] and Dansby [Swanson],” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said.
Vanderbilt’s offense was aggressive all night, recording 11 hits and stealing five bases. The Commodores have 20 stolen bases in eight NCAA tournament games, while their opponents have combined for none.
“This game was surprisingly a close score, because, I promise you, it felt like a root canal,” UC Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie said. “I think Vanderbilt was very impressive up and down their lineup -- they executed. And I think the score just wasn't indicative of the difference between the two teams [Monday night].”
Five isn’t just a magic number in a CWS game of late, it’s been Vanderbilt’s benchmark, as well, in 2014. The Commodores improved to 35-2 when scoring five or more runs, including 6-0 in the NCAA tournament.
Swanson led VU going 3-for-5 with two doubles, a walk, a stolen base and two runs scored. One of his doubles looked as if it might be the first home run hit in the six games at the College World Series in 2014. But it hit off the very top of the fence in the left-field corner. His 27th double put Swanson at the top of the nation’s leaders in the category and tied the Vanderbilt single-season record set in 2004.
Didn’t you know? Doubles are the new home run. We’re still waiting for long ball No. 1, and when asked about his hit -- Swanson still didn’t know where it landed.
“When I hit it, I knew I hit it well,” Swanson said before turning to Wiel and asking where it hit. “It did? I knew I should’ve done those pushups [Sunday] night. Whatever happens, happens. With the way the wind blows here, you always have to run hard.”
Vandy jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to some small ball, which included three bunts. The big bats arrived in the decisive fifth inning when they trailed 4-2 entering the frame. Swanson led off the inning with a double and scored on a Vince Conde groundout. Wiel followed with an RBI double of his own.
All of a sudden it was a tie game. The next run one of the teams scored would be the fifth. It would mean a win.
“We felt if we were going to turn it around, we would hit the ball well enough,” Corbin said. “We had some hard strikes that were caught. And felt like we were going to swing the bat.”
With Wiel at third base and one out, John Norwood lifted a ball to right field that was caught. Wiel trotted home with the fifth run. We could’ve shut the lights off. It was over. UC Irvine fell to 4-12 when allowing five or more runs in a game. For the Anteaters, five was a number they haven’t liked all year -- let alone Monday night. And it was as if they knew it -- without really knowing it -- in the dugout.
“I think the momentum started to shift and there might have been some -- a lull of energy in the dugout,” UC Irvine’s Kris Paulino said. “We had some long innings on defense. I think if we had quick innings and kept the energy up, we would have had more fight.”
The Commodores chased UC Irvine starter Elliot Surrey in that inning after 4.1 innings. It was his shortest start since going just 3.2 innings a few miles down the road at Nebraska on March 15th. There must be something about this state.
Stellar 5.1 innings of relief from Vandy’s Walker Buehler meant the number five stayed a winning number at every game ever played at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in the College World Series.
Five -- it may not seem like a lot, but it feels like 15. At least around these parts.
• Vanderbilt beats UC Irvine 6-4 Highlights