OMAHA, Neb. — With first-round draft pick Tyler Beede off his game again, Walker Buehler was eager to help.
Buehler pitched 5 1-3 innings of no-hit relief in Vanderbilt’s 6-4 win over UC Irvine at the College World Series on Monday night, moving the Commodores within a win of next week’s championship round.
The Commodores (48-19) will play in a bracket final Friday against the winner of a Wednesday elimination game between UC Irvine (41-24) and Texas.
Buehler (12-2) retired the first nine batters he faced and finished with seven strikeouts in only his third relief appearance of the year. Only two balls were hit out of the infield against him.
Buehler said pitching coach Scott Brown told him before the game to be ready.
“You expect your guys to go out and perform as well as they can. I was happy I got to pick him up,” Buehler said.
John Norwood’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fifth inning put Vanderbilt up 5-4, and his two-strike, two-out single in the seventh made it a two-run game.
Elliot Surrey (8-5) took the loss, allowing five runs in 4 1-3 innings in just his third start.
UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said watching Buehler work “felt like a root canal.”
“The score wasn’t indicative of the difference between the two teams tonight,” Gillespie said. “So we’ll show up on Wednesday and try to give a better account of ourselves.”
Beede, the 14th overall draft pick by the San Francisco Giants, continued to struggle with his command. He failed to make it past the fifth inning for a second straight start and sixth time in 18 outings. He walked three and hit three in 3 2-3 innings and was charged with four runs. He’s walked 24 and plunked 10 batters in his last 37 innings.
The Anteaters had no answer for Buehler. The 6-foot-1, 160-pounder mixed a biting curveball with a fastball in the mid 90s. It was an impressive bounce-back from his last outing, a super-regional start against Stanford that lasted three innings.
“The game turned around when Walker came in,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “He pounded the strike zone from the minute he got in there to the minute he finished.”
Buehler’s biggest challenge came in the eighth when he issued a walk and hit a batter with two out. Brown went to the mound for a visit, and Buehler ended the threat by striking out Adam Alcantara on three pitches.
“Every time he comes out he tries to make me laugh and smile and relax me,” Buehler said. “It obviously worked out. I wouldn’t say the wheels were spinning. But you’re in the College World Series, and you walk a kid and hit a kid, it’s nice to have a guy come out and settle you down a bit.”
Irvine’s Surrey came into the game having given up no runs in eight innings and two in his previous 15. But Vanderbilt turned three singles and a walk into a 2-0 lead in the first.
Irvine batted around while taking a 4-2 lead in the second. The Anteaters tied it when Grant Palmer scored from third on Alcantara’s bunt, and Sparks gave them the lead with a two-run single for his fourth hit in his first six CWS at-bats.
The Commodores regained the lead in the fifth, tying it when Bryan Reynolds scored from second after Zander Wiel hit a ball over Alcantara in left field for a double. After Evan Brock relieved with the bases loaded, Norwood’s sacrifice fly to left put Vanderbilt back in front.
UC Irvine, one of the last four teams selected for the 64-team NCAA tournament, now must win three games to reach the best-of-three finals.
“For us to come back the first time, we felt pretty confident,” Irvine’s Kris Paulino said. “For us to go back down one and then two runs, it seemed like it was going to take a lot. Buehler was starting to throw well, and you felt he was on a roll.”