OMAHA—Carlos Rodon finally cracked.
In the ninth inning of Sunday’s College World Series showdown against North Carolina, Rodon allowed a single by Chaz Frank followed by an RBI double by Landon Lassiter. It was the first earned run the sophomore lefthander had allowed in his last 18 innings against the Tar Heels.
“I think he was subpar,” N.C. State catcher Brett Austin deadpanned when asked about Rodon’s performance Sunday. “No, I’m just kidding. I mean, he was as good as I’ve seen all year.”
Of course he was. Rodon is hard-wired to pitch his best when the stakes are highest. There could hardly be a bigger game than N.C. State’s first CWS contest in 45 years—against the arch-rival Tar Heels, no less. And his highly anicipated Omaha debut lived up to the hype, as he allowed just five hits and two walks while striking out eight in a complete game, leading the Wolfpack to an 8-1 victory.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: North Carolina State took control of the game and knocked Kent Emanuel out with four runs in the third. Emanuel labored from the outset of the game, but it was just 1-0 until the Wolfpack strung together three straight hits—an RBI single by Grant Clyde, and RBI double by Brett Williams and an RBI single by Bryan Adametz—to chase Emanuel in the third.
The Hero: Carlos Rodon took a no-hitter into the fifth and finished with a complete-game gem, allowing just a run on five hits and two walks while striking out eight. He improved to 2-0, 1.37 in the NCAA Tournament, and 2-0, 0.87 in five career starts against UNC. He has 51 strikeouts and 12 walks in 41 1/3 innings against the Tar Heels.
You Might Have Missed: Clyde was hit by three pitches in the game, tying the CWS single-game record held by Cal State Fullerton’s Kurt Suzuki (2003) and UC Irvine’s Taylor Holiday (2007). He also went 1-for-1 and scored two runs, part of a balanced N.C. State attack that featured eight players with hits and seven with RBIs.
“You can see his dominance today, just how good that kid is—just complete dominance, really,” UNC coach Mike Fox said of Rodon.
After walking Chaz Frank on four pitches to start the first, Rodon immediately clamped down, retiring the next 14 batters in a row. He struck out two in the first, two more in the second and another in the third, giving him five punchouts after one trip through the order. His 83-87 mph slider was simply overpowering, and he used it as the putaway pitch on all eight of his strikeouts.
“That’s what Carlos does well,” Frank said. “He uses the slider very effectively, throws it better and controls it better than his fastball, and he feeds off that. And with power pitchers, you usually see them throw their fastball and use their fastball more, but with Carlos it’s his slider, and that was difficult today.”
“He can control that (slider), and throw it in any count, and then when he needs to, he can throw it 94, 95,” said UNC catcher Brian Holberton, who broke up Rodon’s no-hit bid with a two-out single up the middle in the fifth. “He could just throw every pitch today for strikes wherever he wanted.”
Rodon’s fastball ranged from 92-96 mph, as usual, and he hit his spots well. N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said Rodon has commanded his fastball better lately than ever before in his career, and that has helped him peak down the stretch after a rocky start to the season. After allowing just an unearned run on one hit over 10 brilliant innings against UNC in the ACC tournament, Rodon threw a two-hit shutout in regionals against William & Mary, then battled into the ninth in a no-decision against Rice in the super regional.
The big difference Sunday was that Rodon finally got some run support. In Rodon’s last three starts, the Wolfpack mustered a total of just six runs—in 36 innings. The ‘Pack eclipsed that total in nine innings Sunday. N.C. State spotted him a 5-0 lead through three, and there was no way Rodon was going to waste that kind of a cushion.
The game featured all four cover boys from Baseball America’s 2013 College Preview issue—Rodon, Trea Turner, Kent Emanuel and Colin Moran. All four are among college baseball’s biggest stars, but Rodon shined brightest Sunday. Moran went 0-for-3 with a walk, making him 1-for-14 with two walks in his career against Rodon. Emanuel, meanwhile, continued to struggle in the postseason.
Turner set the tone in the top of the first by walking against Emanuel to lead off the game, then stealing second and scoring on Tarran Senay’s RBI single to left. The Wolfpack made Emanuel work in the frame—he needed 26 pitches to get through six batters. Then, in the third, N.C. State broke the game open with four runs, sparked by Austin’s one-out double. Grant Clyde, Brett Williams, Bryan Adametz and Logan Ratledge followed with RBIs in that rally, part of a balanced N.C. State attack that featured seven different players with RBIs. The Wolfpack feasted on Emanuel’s offspeed stuff, as his changeup lacked its usual tumble. His change and curveball both were up in the zone, and N.C. State made him pay for it.
Emanuel exited after 2 2/3 innings, having allowed five earned runs on six hits. It was his second straight start without getting out of the third inning; in the postseason, he is 1-1, 11.40.
“When Kent doesn’t have the command of his offspeed pitches like he normally does—you know, that’s his strength, to be able to throw his changeup and his breaking ball at any time, any count, keep the hitter uncomfortable, be able to pitch in with his fastball,” Fox said. “And he hasn’t had that the last few starts. But hopefully he’s going to get another opportunity out here at some point. And we would not be out here without him.”
Emanuel has certainly proven to be a big-game pitcher in his own right—remember his complete-game shutout against Texas in his own CWS debut, as a freshman in 2011? But he has hit a rough patch at the wrong time, while Rodon has peaked at exactly the right time.
“You know, this is the College World Series—it doesn’t get any better than this, so why not bring your ‘A’ game?” Rodon said, matter-of-factly.
“When Carlos is on the mound,” Clyde said, “you know he’s going to come out against those guys even more amped up because it’s a big game, and Carlos came out and did his thing and was very dominant.”
That statement is redundant. For Rodon, “doing his thing” is the same thing as being “very dominant.”