OMAHA, Neb. -- Having one of the nation's deepest and most talented pitching staffs has its advantages in the College World Series, and it certainly played in Vanderbilt's favor in a 6-4 win over UC Irvine.
Though teams such as UCLA last season managed to get through the entire CWS without using many arms on the way to a national title, that typically isn't the case for everyone else. So, when Vanderbilt and UC Irvine locked up Monday night in a crucial winner's bracket contest, coaches Mike Gillespie and Tim Corbin weren't going to give their starting pitchers too much of a leash, especially Corbin, whose club possesses one of the nation's elite staffs from a sheer talent standpoint.
The Commodores entered the contest hoping to get a strong start from first-round pick and righthanded pitcher Tyler Beede. Beede, who has premium overall stuff with a big-time fastball and changeup, sometimes struggles immensely with his command of those offerings. That was again the case on Monday, as Beede had a quick 1-2-3 first inning, but struggled with his command and sharpness the rest of his outing.
Beede's lack of crispness caught up with him earlier than some expected. The righty allowed four runs on three hits in second inning, with Taylor Sparks' two-RBI double the headliner, and the Anteaters suddenly had four runs and a 4-2 lead after just two innings.
Beede got through the third inning without too much trouble, but the fourth inning got rather tedious with UC Irvine getting two runners on with two outs, the top of the lineup at the plate. Seizing the opportunity to turn this game over to his bullpen of riches, Corbin lifted Beede from the game for sophomore righthanded pitcher Walker Buehler, who like Beede this year, should be a first-round pick in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft.
"As I told them when I walked out there, it's the last thing I want to do as a coach [taking Beede out], to take him out there, but we needed a change of pace there," Corbin said. "It was at a point in the game when we were losing by two and wanted to keep the game right there. We felt we would turn it around."
That proved to be a brilliant move, as Buehler put together one of his most dominant performances of the season on the way to a 6-4 victory to put Vanderbilt in golden shape to advance to the CWS title series.
"We got out everythinged in this one," Gillespie said. "Particularly once Walker Buehler came into the game, he pitched like a first-rounder waiting to happen. If Taylor Sparks isn't going to use me as his agent, I'm going to be Buehler's agent.
"This game was a surprisingly close score," he continued. "But I can promise you, it felt like a root canal."
The Commodores trailed 4-2 when Buehler entered the game in the fourth inning. But soon, after escaping the bottom of the fourth without any damage, the Vandy offense gave him some cushion to last the rest of the way in the top half of the fifth inning, scoring three runs in the fifth inning, the inning getting started with a Dansby Swanson double.
Suddenly, the 'Dores had a 5-4 lead with Buehler on the mound and in a zone.
"I don't think anyone is surprised. I think the game turned when Walker Buehler came into the game," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "There was a momentum change, and he pounded the strike zone from the minute he entered the game, until the game finished. That was just a mature approach to the game."
Buehler took the mound and pitched like someone on a mission. Though the talented righty was fantastic two weekends ago, allowing just two runs in a complete game performance against Oregon, he wasn't ultra sharp in NCAA Super Regional action against Stanford, getting lifted after allowing four runs in just three innings.
Buehler was as good as I've ever seen him against UC Irvine. He retired 16 of the 19 batters he faced in 5 1/3 hitless innings, while also retiring the first nine batters he faced. Buehler's stuff was electric, too. He consistently sat 93-95 with his fastball, even touching 96 on the radar gun, while his power curveball sitting 79-82 was a plus offering with impressive, late, breaking action.
"I think sometimes some balls get up on me unintentionally and sometimes you do it intentionally. I don't think any of those [elevated fastballs] were intentional to be honest with you," Buehler said. "But in this park, you can get away with it because it plays gigantic. I think you kind of have less fear of spraying a ball up because you don't feel like you're going to get hurt as much as a smaller ballpark."
While Buehler took care of business on the mound, he got enough support offensively despite the Commodores leaving 13 runners on base. Second baseman Dansby Swanson had yet another impressive performance, while the top four hitters in the lineup finished the night 7-for-17.
After playing two games in three days, there's now a real luxury for the Commodores the rest of the week. They get an opportunity to rest up in Omaha until Friday, and Buehler, who threw 90 pitches in the relief appearance against UCI, should be rested and ready to go if need be.
As Corbin left the press conference room after his team's win, we asked him what his plans were the rest of the week with three full days off.
Corbin, who's known for his serious demeanor, cracked a smile.
"You know, that's a good question [on what we'll do with three days off]," he said with a smile. "I've never been in this position before."
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: Walker Buehler, rhp, Vanderbilt
Turning point: UC Irvine was in good shape early in the contest against Vanderbilt. It had a 4-2 lead going into the fourth inning, and knocked out Vandy righthanded pitcher Tyler Beede after just 3 2/3 innings of work. However, just when the Anteaters had everything going their way, Vandy inserted righty Walker Buehler, who was terrific in relief with 5 1/3 shutout innings. His relief performance allowed the Commodores to settle down, thus get the offense headed the right direction.
Did you know? Vanderbilt recorded five stolen bases in the win over UC Irvine on Monday. During the NCAA postseason, Vandy now has 20 stolen bases, while its opponents have yet to steal a base.