A breakout campaign wasn't going to end with one pitch in a bullpen session.
Even if there wasn't anything Zack Godley could do to extend the season for Tennessee and nobody would blame him or the program for shutting down his arm, that wasn't an option for the junior starter.
Instead Godley attacked his rehab the same way he had hitters with first-pitch strikes and made it well known that he wanted the ball one more time before the year ended. He got his way on Saturday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, and while he might not have produced the outcome he wanted as No. 18 Arkansas wrapped up a sweep with an 8-2 victory, the Vols still got a glimpse of what they had been missing for the last few weeks.
"He deserved that," UT coach Dave Serrano said. "He worked extremely hard to come back. He deserved the right to go out and represent himself for this team again, and that's why I put him out there.
"He was out of rhythm the first inning, but then you saw him click in and saw the competitiveness of a guy, a true weekend starter in the SEC and what he can do."
The Vols (24-31, 8-22 SEC) had a hard time finding anybody else capable of doing it in Godley's absence, which unexpectedly popped up just before a critical road trip to Auburn and left a glaring hole on the mound after his emergence from reliever to the top of the staff.
Without him during the last three weekends in conference play the Vols would win just once, sliding out of contention for a
postseason berth after a promising start. And the pain of watching that from the dugout might have been more uncomfortable for Godley than the pinch he felt in his oblique after just one pitch in practice last month.
"It's been miserable, really," Godley said. "When I first got the injury, I didn't know how long I was going to be out. Sitting there and watching the team while not being able to pitch has been a very, very bad thing. I just wish I could have gotten to pitch.
"But this was huge. We did everything we could to get back for this weekend. With postseason out of the question, we were just working as hard as we could for this weekend."
Whether or not a healthy Godley could have given the season-ending series with Arkansas more importance is up for debate, though Serrano clearly wasn't interested in taking part in that discussion.
The Vols had other problems aside from injuries that were evident as his first year with the program ended, with the lineup again struggling to deliver much offense, the defense making a pair of errors and the bullpen getting tagged for six late runs to break the game open.
Godley wasn't perfect either after his long absence from the rotation, allowing a couple runs before leaving after five innings and 64 pitches in an outing that was designed to limit the wear on his arm. But he struck out four batters, kept the score close and perhaps gave the Vols a bonus look at what he might provide a year from now.
"I made a comment to one of my coaches during the game, I said, 'It sure is a pleasure to be able to call pitches for a guy who I think is doing things right,'" Serrano said. "He made some great pitches.
"They hit one over the fence, but you can't fault him. He pitched his tail off for five innings for a guy that hasn't thrown in a long time."
Godley has another lengthy layoff ahead of him now. But this time he's starting it after actually working in a game.