MURFREESBORO — With a trip to No. 3 South Carolina on the horizon, top-ranked Vanderbilt figured it faced a mere speed bump when it traveled to play Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday night.
But the Blue Raiders, just a week removed from a 9-1 loss to the Commodores in Nashville, weren’t about to get pushed aside this time. MTSU hung tight for nine innings, but Mike Yastrzemski’s RBI double was the difference in a 1-0 victory for Vanderbilt in front of 1,049 at Reese Smith Jr. Field.
The Commodores (31-3) have won five in a row — dating back to 2009 — against the Blue Raiders (9-23) and have an 11-game overall win streak as they head into this weekend’s series at South Carolina (26-6). The Gamecocks lost 2-0 at The Citadel on Tuesday.
Their latest victory was different than their previous eight, in which they outscored opponents 76-23.
“It is kind of a wake-up call,” Yastrzemski said. “We came off a real good series against Alabama and you can’t lay your head and get too high up in the clouds.”
Vanderbilt didn’t get a hit until the third inning off MTSU right-hander Paul Mittura, who made his second start of the season, and left a scoreless game after four innings due to a pitch count.
The Commodores, however, stranded two runners in the third inning and three in the fourth, which looked like it had the potential to be a big inning. With one out, Vanderbilt loaded the bases with two hits and a hit batter. But Riley Reynolds couldn’t get a squeeze bunt down and popped it up the third-base line. MTSU catcher Tyler Acker, a Donelson Christian Academy product, made a diving catch and then doubled off Aaron Westlake, who was more than halfway to home.
“It got us out of a huge jam,” MTSU coach Steve Peterson said. “His athleticism is what allowed him to make that play because he was fully extended when he caught that bunt. I’m sure the Vanderbilt coaching staff feels like it wasn’t a good bunt but it was a great play. ... It kept us in the game.”
Vanderbilt finally broke through in the sixth. Anthony Gomez led off with a single to right field to extend his hitting streak to 29 games. Then, with two outs, and Yastrzemski at the plate, Gomez moved to second on a passed ball. He scored on Yastrzemski’s double that was just out of the reach of a diving Trent Miller in the right field corner.
That was all the Commodores needed and all they got. MTSU pitchers scattered eight hits. Matthew Drake (0-1) got the loss.
Vanderbilt's pitchers were just as impressive. Starter T.J. Pecoraro went just five innings due to a pitch count but allowed no runs on two hits and one walk while striking out four. The right-handed freshman improved his record to 6-0 and is now tied with Grayson Garvin (6-1) for the second-most wins.
“I just think T.J. has always been a pretty advanced pitcher coming in here and I think he has gotten progressively better,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “I just think he has an advanced feel for the baseball for a young kid. He has the same calmness about him all the time. He never really changes. He is that way all the time.”
Pecoraro also got plenty of help from Gomez. Seven groundballs were hit to the shortstop, and he fielded all them cleanly, seemingly with ease. The sophomore backhanded several tough hard hits to the hole, scooping them up and firing bullets over to first base.
“It is great watching him. It makes the game fun,” Pecoraro said. “Sometimes you want to let them hit just to see if he can make the play.”
Four relief pitchers — Kevin Ziomek, Jack Armstrong, Corey Williams and Navery Moore — combined to allow just one hit and three walks in the final four innings. Moore picked up his seventh save of the season by getting around a leadoff walk to Will Skinner. He left the game-tying run at third when Jordan Rorex flied to right field.
“It is just good to see [Moore] finish,” Corbin said. “You don't ask how. Just get it done — that’s all. Skinner is a pretty good hitter. We just didn't want him to beat us but he wasn't going to pitch around him. Yeah, it is good to get out of it.”
• Vanderbilt improved to 9-2 in one-run games. Tuesday's was the first 1-0 victory.
• Along with Gomez’s hitting streak, junior third baseman Jason Esposito has hit safely in 15 straight games.
• Middle Tennessee State has dropped five of its last six and hosts Tennessee Tech at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.