|GAME AT A
Point: After Florida State scored three in the bottom of the eighth to tie, Stanford scored 11 in the ninth, helped by a pair of Seminoles errors. The key play: Just after Jason Castro had what looked like the go-ahead double wiped out by a blown call, Tony Delmonico booted Castro’s routine grounder, opening the floodgates.
OMAHA—It was the 800-pound gorilla in the Florida State dugout. For all the Seminoles’ offensive prowess, this is a team that has struggled defensively all year long—especially on the left side of the infield, where shortstop Tony Delmonico entered Saturday fielding .906 and third baseman Stuart Tapley was fielding .885.
That flaw proved fatal for Florida State in the first game of the 2008 College World Series, as Delmonico made three errors in a 16-5 loss to Stanford. The Cardinal broke a 5-5 tie with 11 runs in the ninth inning—tying a CWS record for most runs in an inning. Delmonico made two errors on routine double-play balls that could have nipped the inning in the bud.
“This game will humble you, obviously,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said. “It’s just one of those things that, unfortunately it just wasn’t our day. Tony has been a tremendous part of the success of our program, and it’s just one of those days where things didn’t go right for us.”
Give the Seminoles credit for battling back from a 5-2 deficit with three runs in the eighth inning on Jason Stidham’s three-run homer to right field. Florida State had missed plenty of opportunities before that, most notably in the seventh inning when it loaded the bases with no outs but failed to score against Stanford freshman closer Drew Storen. The righthander used his slider to get FSU senior sluggers Jack Rye and Dennis Guinn to pop up, then caught Delmonico looking at a fastball on the outside corner to end the inning.
That was the story of the first seven innings: Florida State would threaten, but Stanford executed pitches and made plays defensively when it mattered. Starter Jeremy Bleich worked in and out of trouble for the first five innings, allowing just one run on six hits and two walks while striking out seven.
“They’re a great offensive team, and you don’t keep those people down very often,” Cardinal coach Mark Marquess said. “We did a good job winning some key spots early on.”
And Stanford won every key spot against College Player of the Year Buster Posey. After Bleich walked the two hitters in front of Posey in the fifth, he battled from behind in the count and got Posey to strike out swinging on a 77 mph curveball. Posey came up twice more in the game, walking in the seventh and striking out on another breaking ball immediately after Stidham’s game-tying homer in the eighth.
But the most important battle against Posey came in the ninth, when the two-way star took the mound with a runner on first and the score tied 5-5. Posey hadn’t pitched since May 16, but he didn’t pitch poorly; he just caught some bad breaks. First Toby Gerhart, who hit a solo homer earlier, reached safely on a high chopper to third. That set the stage for the game’s pivotal at-bat, a showdown between top-ten overall draft picks Posey and Jason Castro, with runners on first and second and no outs.
Castro hit a hard chopper down the first-base line that was ruled foul despite clearly hitting the chalk on the far side of first base, and it appeared FSU had dodged a bullet. Shortly thereafter, Posey got Castro to hit into what should have been an easy double play to Delmonico, but the ball got past him, everyone was safe and Stanford had the bases loaded with no outs.
The Cardinal took the lead on a Brent Milleville sacrifice fly and tacked on two more on Sean Ratliff’s two-run soft liner into shallow left-center field. They poured it on against the FSU bullpen after that, with Milleville’s three-run blast to left providing the final margin.
It was the second big hit of the game for Ratliff, who had driven in a run with another soft single to left field in the sixth.
“On the second one (in the ninth), Buster might have missed his spot a little bit, I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball,” Ratliff said. “I got a little lucky and flipped it up the middle.”
It took a little luck for Stanford to pull this one out. But more than that, the Cardinal won battles when it mattered most.
“The ninth inning, that’s just one of those things that happens,” Marquess said. “You don’t know why, it just happens. Luckily it happened for us—we got a couple of breaks, couple extra outs, and then got a couple huge hits and broke the game open.”