Stanford 5, Vanderbilt 4.
Needless to say, this one was heartrending -- again.
"It was a great college baseball game," Cardinal coach Mark Marquess said. "It was a little too great for me late."
On Saturday, there might have been a temptation to recycle the dramatic stories from Stanford's previous two elimination-defying wins, if only this latest season-saving triumph wasn't so uniquely spectacular in its own right.
Since 2011, the Cardinal had tried five times to win a Super Regional game while facing final exams in the brutal conditions of the Southeast. Each time, their attempt had ended in misery.
On Saturday, the 90-degree Nashville humidity enveloped Stanford again down the stretch. With help from a blown call, Vanderbilt clawed back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game over the final two frames. The home crowd reached fever pitch. Again, the Cardinal walked out onto the perilous tightrope of elimination.
On this day, though, the Super Regional story would be different. Adversity that had crippled Stanford in previous trips to North Carolina and Florida State met Wayne Taylor's powerful bat instead.
High. Deep. Ballgame.
Taylor's bomb landed far beyond the right-center field fence. For the second time in a span of six days, Stanford had accomplished the surreal, hitting a walk-off home run to the sound of dead silence on an opponents' home field.
In the process, the Cardinal won their fourth consecutive elimination game, the longest streak of any major Bay Area baseball team since the San Francisco Giants won six straight en route to 2012 the World Series. Taylor has delivered the key jack in two of Stanford's four wins during the stretch, cementing his spot as one of the great heroes in the Cardinal's storied postseason history.
Somewhere, Paul Carey smiled. Tommy Edman, meanwhile, beamed in the Stanford dugout.
Oh, and for good measure, Taylor was drafted by the Seattle Mariners on Saturday, too.
Saturday's shot set the table for a decisive noon PT Game 3 on Sunday. Stanford will send lefty Logan James to the mound with a chance to return the program to Omaha for the first time since 2008. John Hochstatter, one of the Cardinal's best pitchers, may also be available for action after throwing only 45 pitches in his rough start Friday.
One more added bonus: A coin flip has again designated Stanford as the home team in the finale.
In short, there are plenty of occurrences breaking the Cardinal's way.
The first came earlier, when coach Mark Marquess was forced to push Cal Quantrill back to start Saturday instead of Friday because Stanford used the freshman in last Monday's decisive contest at Indiana. This Quantrill delay ending being a critical blessing in disguise for the Cardinal: Marquess didn't have to burn his ace during his team's brutal Game 1 "adjustment period," during which Vanderbilt jumped out to an insurmountable 10-0 lead after three innings.
Instead, Stanford saved the vital Quantrill bullet for Saturday's elimination game, and he flummoxed the Commodores with an absolutely disgusting change-up through seven strong innings. The pitch count eventually chased the youngster (he threw 117 today to bring his total to 259 pitches in the past eight days, a remarkable workload for a guy Marquess calls "a throwback who doesn't ice his arm"), but Stanford's offense had delivered a 4-1 lead before his departure in the eighth inning.
So Brant Whiting's three RBIs had helped Quantrill get some breathing room, but not quite enough to let him immediately resume studying for the Physics 43 final exam that he was scheduled to take in the team hotel afterward. This wouldn't be that easy. In fact, it would be another prototypical Stanford white knuckle ride to the finish, and Quantrill would watch intently from the dugout railing the rest of the way.
Hard-throwing Cardinal reliever A.J. Vanegas struggled to control his fastball, particularly after a blown call at first base cost him a double play and fueled a two-run Vanderbilt rally in the eighth. In the Commodores' final chance, Stanford survived a potentially devastating fly ball ball to the warning track before Vanegas hit Xavier Turner with the bases loaded to force in the tying run. Vanegas, though, escaped further damage and sent the game to the bottom of the ninth tied.
Enter Taylor, who had faced Vanderbilt's Adam Ravenelle back when the Commodores swept Stanford in March. Remembering the right hander's hard fastball and slider, Taylor waited in the bushes to strike.
At 1-1, he got his opportunity. Taylor pummeled Ravenelle's 95 mile-per-hour delivery high into the Nashville sky. It was the first home run Ravenelle had surrendered in his college career.
"It was kind of low, so I thought it might bounce off the fence or something," he smiled afterward.
Taylor's bat flip immediately following the home run would suggest otherwise. He knew it all along: Stanford would be returning Sunday to again fight a similar battle for its life, except with even higher stakes. This next one would be for a spot in the promised land. Omaha.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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