OMAHA, Neb. -- Vanderbilt freshman Jeren Kendall’s walk-off homer in Monday’s 4-3 win against Cal State Fullerton capped an electric, long and flat-out awkward series of events in both teams’ 2015 College World Series opener.
As Kendall’s liner crashed off the back wall in the left-hand corner of the Cal State Fullerton bullpen, an unidentified Titan took his clipboard and heaved it onto the ground, sending papers flailing as the realization of the moment settled in. Vanderbilt won a game in which Titan starter Thomas Eshelman breezed through the Commodore lineup on Sunday night, only to have a weather delay suspend the rest of the game until Monday afternoon, relocate Eshelman from the mound to slouched over the dugout railing and force Fullerton to go to its bullpen prematurely.
The result? Kendall galloping around the bases with the first walk-off homer in TD Ameritrade Park history and his team’s spot in the winner’s bracket in his back pocket.
Sunday, 10:22 p.m. ET
Eshelman is in control. He has Dansby Swanson, the 2015 MLB Draft first overall pick, down 0-2 with Rhett Wiseman on second base. Eshelman heads to the plate from the stretch and lifts an 87 mph fastball by him for the second out of the inning.
This is what Eshelman does. As precise a pitcher as there is in college baseball, he delivers his 87-90 mph heater effectively with pin-point accuracy and by hiding the ball well, making his fastball get in on hitters more than the radar gun would have you believe. The strikeout is his eighth of the night against zero walks with the Titans on top 3-0.
Vanderbilt is donning its black jerseys with white pinstripes.
With two down, Zander Wiel steps to the plate. A passed ball moves Wiseman to third as the count runs full. Then home plate umpire Perry Costello started waving everyone off the field.
A storm is en route to the ballpark. Eshelman returns to the dugout only 95 pitches deep and, if he were to get out of the jam, would likely have headed back out for the seventh. A one-hour, 19-minute delay finally unveils what most people expected and, depending on their rooting interest, either dreaded or hoped for: the game would have to be continued on Monday.
Eshelman’s stellar outing, and Cal State Fullerton’s best chance at a win, was finished.
“Obviously in my mind, I wanted to finish that inning,” Eshelman said, “but I wasn’t given the opportunity to.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin wouldn’t say he was hoping for a delay Sunday night. He said the best-case scenario is to always finish a game start to finish in one day.
But there was no sense in fighting it. With the suspension official, Corbin opted to just let his players go back to the hotel and sleep. “There’s nothing we can do about what the Big Man is gonna do with the weather,” Corbin said. “It’s his stadium and he can do whatever the heck he wants with it.”
Meanwhile, Wiel would be back in the batter’s box once play got back underway on Monday. He faced a night ahead that could’ve been spent trying to analyze what would come next. Wiseman’s run on third was critical in a three-run contest that saw very little spark from the defending champs’ lineup.
Instead, Wiel said he merely went to sleep. Thinking about the potentially season-changing pitch to come the next day, as it turns out, was an issue to be dealt with in the morning.
Monday, approx. 1 p.m.
Wiel is back in the cage for his second round of batting practice of the day. He and assistant coach Travis Jewett had been in the cage earlier in the morning, back when the plan was to resume play at noon. But additional rain in Omaha pushed back play for an additional three hours back to 3 p.m., and forced the Commodores to head back to the hotel. When they returned, Wiel and Jewett went back to work.
Wiel hadn’t put much thought into the crucial at-bat as he went to sleep Sunday night. He knew he’d be facing a pitcher from the Titan bullpen, and with the count full, Wiel would likely get a pitch in the zone.
The game plan was to stay to the middle of the field and to be a fastball away. “Working out to in, you don’t want to be out in front of something with two strikes,” Wiel said. He knew the pitcher could come with a breaking ball, but with him down two strikes, “I’m ready for a fastball and adjusting to anything else.”
Play is back underway at TD Ameritrade Park. Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook opts to go with sophomore Chad Hockin out of the bullpen, delivering the news roughly 30 minutes before play resumed.
Vanderhook likes Hockin’s fastball, with the plan to have him out there for three hitters. Hockin enters from the bullpen, throws seven warmup tosses before Wiel stepped back into the box. It’s been 16 hours, 43 minutes since the previous pitch was thrown.
Corbin didn’t discuss the at-bat with Wiel on Monday morning. “I feel like a parent in the backseat of a car where I’m just letting the kids drive,” he said. “We’ve done the driving school thing, I’ve stepped on the brakes enough with them, now it’s their time to kind of put the gas pedal on.”
Vanderbilt has switched uniforms to its home whites.
Hockin sets and delivers a 95 mph fastball, the one Wiel had been prepared for. Wiel goes with the pitch and lined a shot into the right center field gap to bring in Wiseman to make it a 3-1 game.
It is now a different game. Cal State Fullerton had won the first. Vanderbilt may now be on its way to winning the second.
The Titans have their stopper in the game. Tyler Peitzmeier, who entered to start the seventh, has set down all five batters he’s faced as Swanson steps to the plate.
Peitzmeier gets Swanson to fly out to left, sending the game to the ninth. It looks as if the Titans are going to escape Mother Nature’s attempt to derail their chance at a huge win to start off its quest for a fifth national championship.
Cal State Fullerton strands on a runner on second to send it to the bottom of the ninth as a two-run game. Peitzmeier comes back out to try to complete the three-inning save. It marks the second time all season he’s eclipsed the two-inning mark. The other time? A 3.2-inning appearance in May 12’s loss against UC Riverside where he surrendered the game-winning hit in the top of the 10th.
Vanderbilt has Wiel, Will Toffey and Bryan Reynolds coming up, with Kendall getting a shot if anyone reaches.
Wiel takes a first-pitch ball before going back to the right center field gap for another crucial double to put the tying run to bring the tying run to the plate.
Peitzmeier bounces back to get Toffey for the first out to bring Reynolds to the dish. After working the count to 2-2, Peitzmeier tries to get him on a back-door breaking ball. Reynolds is ready for it. He stays back and lines one down the left field line that just stays inside the chalk. It’s a 3-2 game, with Kendall heading to the box.
Vanderhook heads out to the mound. The rest of the infield follows his lead. Vanderhook tries to calm Peitzmeier down. “Make the pitch, they’ll hit it and we’ll catch it.”
Cal State Fullerton has the man it wants on the hill in Peitzmeier as Vanderbilt’s rookie digs in from the left side. A hit ties the ball game. An out puts the defending champs into the depths of the loser’s bracket.
Kendall faced Peitzmeier back in the seventh. Kendall worked the count full before Peitzmeier got the freshman to chase a slider in the dirt for strike three.
Kendall liked the looks he got in his first at-bat against the lefty. “Even though it didn’t end very well … I saw some good looks on some balls and got my reads.” He came up the second time with a clear mind.
Peitzmeier sets and delivers his first pitch. Strike one.
The lefty goes through the signs and decided on his next offering: a slider, one that he got Kendall out in front of the first time the two faced.
“It was a good slider,” Peitzmeier said. It was his 37th pitch of the game. It would be his last.
Kendall stays back as the slider broke into the inner half of the plate. Seconds later, the Vanderbilt bench storms from its dugout.
“That’s a huge moment,” Corbin said of Kendall’s two-run blast. “You know how difficult that is off of a very good pitcher.”
Meanwhile the Titans, 20 hours, five minutes later, are left with the long, unlikely stroll back to the dugout.