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Garcia, bullpen lead Fullerton past Texas

By Will Kimmey
June 26, 2004

OMAHA--It seemed likely that a hot-hitting catcher would carry Cal State Fullerton's offense at the College World Series.

It figured to be first-team All American Kurt Suzuki. But he has collected just two hits in 19 CWS at-bats. Instead Felipe Garcia, a 2003 California junior college All-America catcher at Cypress JC, has carried the Titans with an 11-for-20 performance as the DH.

Garcia delivered four of those hits, along with three RBIs, Saturday night as Fullerton beat favored Texas 6-4. The Titans gained a 1-0 edge in the best-of-three championship series in front of 26,604 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium, the second-largest crowd in CWS history and the seventh consecutive session attendance record set this year.

"Felipe had a great year and in any kind of successful year, guys get hot," Horton said. "Suzuki's has had a great year, but he's just missed some balls (in Omaha)."

Garcia ended up successful in four of his five trips to the plate, but Danny Dorn--his teammate at Diamond Bar (Calif.) High--came through with the game's biggest at-bat. Texas led 4-3 heading into the top of the seventh inning, and coach Augie Garrido brought in closer Huston Street after J. Brent Cox allowed singles to the inning's first two batters. Street struck out Suzuki and P.J. Piliterre and worked into a 2-2 count against Danny Dorn.

He tried to sneak a fastball by Dorn up in the zone, the left fielder smacked it the opposite way into left field, where Carson Kainer took a few slow steps back, then sprinted and drove--but the ball ultimately glanced off the heel of his glove, leading to two Titans runs. Kainer had moved in a little when Street got two strikes on Dorn.

"It went up in the lights, then I saw it come out of the lights. I can still see that ball hitting off my glove," Kainer said. "If I catch it, I'm a hero. I should have had it, but I didn't."

Garcia followed with a single to drive in Dorn for a 6-4 lead.

It marked Street's fifth blown save of the season--and his second in two games--but it was the first time all year Texas didnít come back to win. The bullpen looked like a marked advantage for Texas entering the series, one in which the teams seemed equal in nearly every other phase of the game. Fullerton scored three runs off Cox and Street; its bullpen held Texas without a run in 2 1/3 innings in relief of starter Ricky Romero.

"That's something that's going to happen," Street said. "I'm out there doing the best I can do. Give credit to the Georgia hitters (on Wednesday) and the Fullerton hitters tonight.

"The blown saves are something that's part of it. I want to be out there. I can handle it. I want the ball."

Mike Martinez, who began the year as Fullerton's closer before moving to the weekend rotation, notched his second save of the year by striking out Drew Stubbs (who tied a Big 12 record by fanning five times) and getting Seth Johnston to hit into a fielder's choice to end it.

Vinnie Pestano and Ryan Schreppel also did their jobs out of the bullpen. Pestano got Curtis Thigpen, who went hitless after getting nine hits in his first three CWS games, to pop up to first base with two men on and two outs in the seventh inning.

"We do have a bullpen; that's been the question all week," Horton said of a relief corps that has allowed no runs and five hits in eight CWS innings.

"They did good," was all Garrido would say about Fullerton's relievers, clearly stunned at how they had out-classed the Longhorns crew on the night.

Garrido couldn't have been very excited about his team's defense, either. Texas committed an uncharacteristic three errors--including two in the first inning that led to three unearned Fullerton runs. The miscues rattled Texas starter J.P. Howell, but he managed a full count against Garcia before the Titans DH stroked an outside fastball into right field for a pair of RBIs.

Garcia has used that type of approach all week in Omaha, routinely shooting singles into the opposite field. The DH gathers information on hitting by watching during opponents' at-bats and approaches, and also by talking with the players who hit ahead of him in the Titans order. "They give me info on what the pitcher's throwing and it's like getting two at-bats before my first one," he said.

Postseason success isn't really anything new to Garcia. He helped lead Cypress to the California state title at Cypress last year.

"I donít really change my approach (in the postseason)," Garcia said. "The only thing is maybe I concentrate more on each at-bat. I donít think about the last at-bat, just the next one."

That's one of the two key tactics Garcia learned from coach Scott Pickler at Cypress; the other was to control his attitude. Pickler spoke with Garcia, a high school linebacker who has dropped nearly 40 pounds to his current weight of 220, about channeling the raw emotion that served him well on the gridiron. He learned the hard way, hitting the bench for uncalled for outbursts.

"There was a lot of bat throwing and helmet throwing," Garcia said. "When I got (to Fullerton), Danny Dorn, who played with me in high school, was like 'Where's the helmet, dude?' "

That improved attitude and a .392-15-60 numbers as a junior at Cypress earned Garcia the call from Fullerton, the school that's just five minutes from where he grew up and the only one he ever wanted to play for. He knew coming in that Suzuki and Piliterre, who caught 20 games this year, were ahead of him on the depth chart. But Garcia wanted to be a Titan bad enough to commit to the school, and then commit to helping the team any way he could--as an outfielder, a third-string catcher, a DH or a pinch hitter.

Now, it's hard to imagine where Fullerton would be without Garcia's hot hitting and seven RBIs, which are tied for the most at the CWS.

Horton doesn't have to wonder. He knows exactly what fate would await his team.

"I'd be in Yorba Linda (Calif.) sitting in my Jacuzzi with my family," he said.

Horton might still be doing that soon, but in a celebratory mode. The win puts Fullerton just one victory away from its first title since 1995, when Horton was an assistant there to Garrido. The Titans made it past Texas' ace in Howell, and have their ace going Sunday in Jason Windsor, a workhorse who has logged 10 complete games this season.

"It feels good going into tomorrow with our horse," Garcia said. "Hopefully we can ride him all nine innings."

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