Bugs Bunny, quoting Groucho Marx, would tell an antagonist that had pushed him too far that “Of course, you know, this means war” before proceeding to dish out anvil-and-mallet-laden retribution for the audience’s sake.
Luke Smith, pitching for Louisville, had been pitching brilliantly through eight innings in the College World Series on Friday, giving up three hits en route to a 2-1 lead over Vanderbilt. It was at that point that he taunted Julian Infante, whom Smith had just made his 10th strikeout victim, with a collection of words you shouldn’t say in front of your mother.
For the No. 2-ranked Commodores, now three outs away from facing a do-or-die game, that was the moment where, you know, this means war.
After sending the Cardinals down scoreless in the bottom of the eighth, Vanderbilt got JJ Bleday on base with a walk before a one-out double down the right field line from Ethan Paul drove in Bleday. That tied the game, and sent Smith to the showers with the game knotted at 2.
Philip Clarke then stepped up and smacked a single to put runners at the corners, before a double down the left-field line from Pat DeMarco turned one run on three hits in a loss into three runs on six hits in a win, ESPN reported.
There was still the matter of finishing the game, but Tyler Brown came in, survived a one-out double, and closed out the contest for his 17th save of the season.
Louisville would’ve had to win twice to advance to the final; Vanderbilt needed just one win and earned it. The Commodores will face Michigan for the championship.
Louisville catcher Henry Davis tried to explain Smith’s loss of emotional control and explain why a pitcher would do something to rile up an opponent in a skin-tight game with so much on the line.
“I know (Infante) was staring at him,” Davis said, “and Luke doesn’t usually like that sort of thing. Luke kind of told him what he thought.”
He just made the mistake of doing so with vulgar language and paying the price for poor sportsmanship.
Infante, meanwhile, got in one heck of a counterattack in the war of words.
“I’d rather not speak in those kind of terms,” Infante said, according to ESPN. “Things work out the way they work out. Sometimes you talk and things happen, and sometimes you don’t need to talk and things happen.”
Smith managed to walk a line between conciliatory and unrepentant in his post-game remarks. “Vanderbilt is a great team and I respect — I love that part of baseball. When they got their big hit in the ninth, they celebrate. That’s how it goes. When I strike somebody out, I celebrate, and that’s just the way it is.”
Clarke, whose timely hit kept the rally going and set the stage for DeMarco’s game-winner, mentioned that this isn’t the first time Vanderbilt faced this sort of unintended motivational tactic on the part of an enemy.
“A couple of people have done that this year,” Vanderbilt designated hitter Philip Clarke said, according to ESPN. “We’ve responded well every time.”
The moral of the story is clear: Do not taunt the Commodores, or else — like a cartoon coming to life — you’ll get a brick house dropped on your head.
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