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|GAME AT A
Point: South Carolina leadoff man Evan Marzilli doubled to lead off the game, and the Gamecocks were in control from that point on. Marzilli scored two batters later on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s RBI groundout, and the Gamecocks tacked on single runs in four of the next five innings. Clemson wound up losing by four, but it felt like 40.
OMAHA—As Michael Roth took his seat in the unfamiliar territory of the postgame press conference, he studied the stat sheet on the table in front of him.
One number, in particular, jumped out to him: 33.
“I actually didn’t know what ‘BF’ meant—33,” Roth said.
From the side of the room, somebody called out, “Batters faced.”
“OK,” said Roth. “I didn’t know what that was. So it’s an impressive line. I mean, I pitched great.”
It’s no wonder Roth stumbled over that “batters faced” stat. He had never come close to it in his career. The South Carolina sophomore is a left-on-left specialist by trade, accustomed to facing a batter or two per outing. His longest career outing heading into Friday was 4 1/3 innings, in his last start—on April 14, 2009. His longest outing of 2009 came in the Columbia Regional, when he threw 3 1/3 perfect innings of relief against Bucknell.
“I think I tripled that tonight,” Roth said.
Well, he nearly tripled it. Roth stunned Rosenblatt Stadium on Friday night, tossing a complete-game, three-hit masterpiece in South Carolina’s 5-1 win against Clemson to force a decisive rematch Saturday, with the winner advancing to the CWS Finals. Facing elimination for the third straight game, the Gamecocks were desperate for pitching, and Roth gave them more than they possibly could have imagined.
“I was very confident going into the game that he would give us a chance to win—through three or four innings,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said, as Roth smiled at the other end of the dais. “I know him well. He’s been an outstanding pitcher for us all year, and my confidence level was that he would get the game going for us and we’d have a chance through three or four and we’d have to figure out what we were going to do. And then he kept stretching it out.
“That was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever had a young man pitch for me. That was certainly one for the record books, as far as I’m concerned.”
South Carolina pitching coach Mark Calvi felt strongly that Roth was the right choice to start against the lefthanded-leaning Tigers, and Tanner agreed. Roth said he didn’t see it coming.
“I was actually surprised,” he said. “Coach Calvi came in my room and was like, ‘You OK to start?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ I am honored they called upon me against a great team.”
Then, this morning, Roth ran into Tanner at the hotel elevator.
“I told Coach I’d throw until my arm fell off,” Roth said. “And he asked me if that was one inning. But no, I didn’t expect to go nine innings. But I really expected to go five, and I just kept taking it one inning at a time.”
Roth simply ate up Clemson’s lefthanded bats. Until Brad Miller’s two-out single in the ninth, Clemson’s lefties were a combined 0-for-21 against Roth. And he induced 16 groundball outs, taking advantage of South Carolina’s reliable infield defense. Roth said he mainly just threw fastballs in and sliders away against those lefthanded hitters.
“I think from the last time time we saw him, I think he dropped his arm slot a little bit, as far as the way the ball is moving tonight,” one of those lefties, Wilson Boyd, said. “Made it tough on a lefty because it exploded in. And he had a slider away and down in the zone.”
Roth’s fastball velocity is far from overpowering, but he entered Friday with a 1.37 ERA because his low arm slot makes his ball difficult for lefties to pick up. Of course, he built that ERA in 26 innings over 35 appearances—not exactly the same as facing the same lineup for nine innings straight.
“Sometimes you don’t like throwing to one batter or two batters, but I began to accept that as my role for the team this year,” Roth said. “Everybody—all 35 guys, now 27—has their role on the team. And I was a situational guy versus lefties.”
On Friday night, Roth lived out every situational reliever’s wildest fantasy: throwing a complete-game masterpiece against an arch-rival in a College World Series elimination game. Not only did he help prolong South Carolina’s season, but he saved the rest of the pitching staff, increasing the Gamecocks’ chances of winning Saturday.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett did not announce his starting pitcher, but Clemson is likely to bring back ace Casey Harman on four days’ rest, while South Carolina will call upon Sam Dyson on three days’ rest. And if Dyson gets into trouble, the Gamecocks have a fairly rested bullpen to tap into, thanks to Roth.
“The fact that he stayed out there for the entire game gave us an opportunity,” Tanner said. “. . . I can’t say enough great things about Michael Roth and what he did for us tonight.”