Considering what portended to be a run deep into the NCAA Tournament—some experts favored them to win the school's first national title in a sport other than women's bowling—Monday's 4-3 extra-inning loss to Michigan is deeply disappointing for Vandy fans. In other ways, though, the season was remarkable.
When was the last time a Vanderbilt team in a major sport ranked at the top of the polls throughout the season, as this one did? When did they have a player projected to be one of the top two picks in the professional draft, as pitcher David Price is thought to be? When did they win 50 games in anything?
It was also perhaps the most remarkable weekend for college baseball in Nashville in a long time. Not only did they sell standing room-only tickets along the walkway behind center field, dozens more fans stood on the top two decks of a nearby parking garage, like the crowds atop the buildings behind Wrigley Field.
Three of Vandy's five games were taut thrillers. Friday's 2-1 win over gritty Austin Peay was one of the best pitching duels you'll ever see, between Price (who struck out 17) and Peay's Shawn Kelley. On both Saturday and Monday, the Commodores fell behind 3-1 before rallying late to tie and then losing 4-3.
An SEC Championship and top national seeding were little consolation to Commodore fans, who must have been asking "what if" after two sterling defensive plays by Michigan saved the evening for the visitors. The latter, in the 10th, robbed Vandy's Pedro Alvarez—who will be everybody's All-American next year—of a game-tying home run. Ironically, it was Price, brought in on two day's rest to shut down the Wolverines in the final innings, who absorbed his first loss of the season. It was even more ironic that he surrendered the game-winning homer to a .188 hitter. That's baseball.
Yet I suspect there are few objective observers who came away from Vandy's two losses thinking that Michigan did not deserve to win. Though their bats awakened for their two wins on Sunday, the Commodores appeared a little tight the rest of the time. Michigan, not Vandy, got the big hits when they needed them, made the bigger defensive plays and caused the Commodores to leave lots of runners in scoring position.
Had they played a 3-game series the way SEC teams play them on weekends, I suspect Vandy would have bested the Big 10 champions. They'd have been able to use Price in the opener, a luxury they didn't have on Saturday.
Even without Price and Dominic de la Osa, Vandy will be loaded again next year. Tim Corbin is an outstanding recruiter, and this year's high national profile for the program will only help. Still, they won't have many better opportunities for a national title than the one they had this year. Adding to today's gloom in Mudville is the feeling that this one got away.