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College World Series Magic Moments
Brought to you by Easton Sports
The first two College World Series featured the event's most famous player, though he never recorded a single at-bat in the major leagues. George Bush, the 41st president of the United States, chose a different path.
Bush was a first baseman on the Yale team that finished runner-up to California in 1947 and Southern California in 1948. Though he was more successful in politics than at the plate, teammates remember his outstanding leadership and glovework.
"Everybody on our team knew Poppy was a natural leader," said James Duffus, a teammate and longtime friend. "He just had it and everybody knew it. In terms of his baseball ability, he was an excellent fielder, a better fielder than he was a hitter. But he really loved to play the game."
Bush, who batted .215 in three seasons with the Elis, went 0-for-7 in the inaugural CWS. His career ended in dramatic fashion the following year. With USC leading 9-2 in the decisive third game, Yale loaded the bases. With Bush on deck, Gerard Breen hit into a triple play.
After Bush became Vice President, he sent Rod Dedeaux, the Trojans' co-coach in 1948, an article about the abrupt finish and attached a handwritten note.
"He said his mind often flashes back to that triple play in the bottom of the ninth," Dedeaux said. "He told me it's the one thing in his sports career that he'll never forget."
One of the most famous games in College World Series history, Southern California's amazing comeback against Dave Winfield and Minnesota, is relived every June in Omaha.
Winfield, now in the Hall of Fame for his career as a big league outfielder, was better known as a pitcher in college. In the Golden Gophers' 1973 CWS opener, he struck out 14 and beat Oklahoma 1-0 with a six-hitter.
On June 12, he faced three-time defending champion Southern California in the semifinals in what would be his final game as a pitcher.
Future major leaguers Rich Dauer, Fred Lynn and Roy Smalley led a Trojans lineup that set an NCAA record with 62 home runs in the final year wood bats were used in college. Unfazed, Winfield dominated the star-studded lineup. Through eight innings he allowed only an infield single and struck out 15 as Minnesota took a commanding 7-0 lead.
"In my whole career, even facing the big boys in the majors, I have never seen anything like that," Dauer said. "When Dave let go of the ball, it was three feet in front of your face and it seemed like it was going 110 miles an hour."
Winfield went to the mound in the ninth to try to finish off his gem, preserve the seven-run lead and send Minnesota to the title game. Trojans pinch-hitter Ken Huizenga led with a single, and then came the turning point. Creighton Tevlin nearly grounded into a double play, but barely beat the relay to first. Gophers coach Dick Siebert protested so much that he was ejected.
Dauer followed with a single, and Lynn hit a grounder off first baseman Chris Brown's glove for a three-base error that scored two runs. When Ed Bowman singled to drive in Lynn, Winfield left the mound and went to left field.
USC scored twice more off Bob Turnbull, so Siebert sent assistant coach George Thomas to ask Winfield to pitch again. A spent Winfield said he would return to the mound if Thomas wanted him to, but said he thought another pitcher could do a better job. In came Gordon Peterson, and the Trojans scored twice more to finish off the incredible comeback and gain the 8-7 victory.
"I have played in a lot of memorable big games during my career," Winfield said. "World Series games, league championship games, all-star games, all kinds. But I will never forget that game against USC. Never."
No single play did more to bring national exposure to the College World Series than the Grand Illusion.
Miami assistants Skip Bertman and Dave Scott were scouting the Florida junior college championships in 1982 when they saw West Palm Beach Community College pull a phantom pickoff play. During a workout a month later at the CWS, Bertman decided to have some fun.
"We put the play in as a relaxer," said Bertman, who went on to win five national championships as Louisiana State's head coach. "It was just a humorous thing. We had no intention of using it. The kids had a blast with it. They thought it was funny."
Miami's opponent the next day was Wichita State, which was on its way to an NCAA single-season record 333 stolen bases, a mark that still stands. Bertman set four conditions to use the play: a Shockers player had to be coaching first base; one of their top basestealers had to be on base; it had to be dusk; and the runner had to dive back on the first pickoff move.
Lo and behold, all four criteria were met with the Hurricanes clinging to a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning of the June 7 game. On first base was All-American Phil Stephenson, who set an NCAA mark with 87 steals that season and still owns the record for career steals. Stephenson dove back to first on pitcher Mike Kasprzak's pickoff move. Kasprzak then looked to the dugout, where Bertman stuck his finger in his ear, flashing the prearranged signal.
After throwing a strike, Kasprzak took his foot off the rubber and seemingly fired a throw to first. First baseman Steve Lusby dove over a prone Stephenson. Second baseman Mitch Seaone and right fielder Mickey Williams frantically dashed toward the right-field bullpen, where pitchers Dan Smith and Bob Walker and even Hurricanes batgirls pretended to elude the ball.
Even the fans were fooled. Spectators in the right-field bleachers stood to look for the ball as players in the Miami dugout pointed to where the ball seemed to be.
When Stephenson took off for second, Kasprzak took the ball from his glove and threw it to shortstop Billy Wrona. A sheepish Stephenson was tagged out, killing the Wichita State rally. The Hurricanes made their 4-3 lead hold up to win the game.
The play made it onto ESPN and local broadcasts across the country, as well as nationally syndicated shows such as "This Week in Baseball."
The play so spooked the opposition that when Hurricanes pitcher Rob Souza really did throw a pickoff into center field against Maine later in the tournament, the runner stayed put. The Black Bears were convinced Souza had tossed the rosin bag.
In the championship game, the Hurricanes again faced off against Wichita State, and the Grand Illusion remained in the minds of the Shockers. Wichita State stole only one base, helping the Hurricanes gain a 9-3 victory and the first of their four national championships.
"The thing that play did for college baseball was make it notable," Bertman said. "Everybody knew about the play. When I went to LSU in 1984 . . . I heard one guy say, 'What we need is a coach who can run that pickoff play.' He had no idea who I was, of course."
Omaha has seen its share of future major league stars, but the greatest pitcher ever to play in the College World Series couldn't even capture the spotlight on his own college staff.
After winning a school-record 61 games coming in to the 1983 CWS, the Texas Longhorns swept through their first four games in Omaha to reach the title game undefeated. The team was led by junior righthander Calvin Schiraldi, who earned two wins while allowing only one run and striking out 16 in 14 1/3 innings pitched, putting the final touches on a season that earned him All-America honors.
Facing Alabama in the championship game, however, Texas was forced to turn to its third starter, a hard-throwing righthander who finished the season with the lowest ERA of the Longhorns' four starting pitchers: Roger Clemens.
The Crimson Tide took a 2-0 lead on Clemens after a sacrifice fly in the third and a solo homer in the fifth. Texas battled back to tie the game in the sixth when Alabama pitcher Rick Browne walked in a run, and then gave up another on an infield out. One inning later, Texas took the lead for good on Kliff Killingsworth's RBI triple and a two-out, RBI bunt single by cleanup hitter Jose Tolentino.
Clemens, meanwhile, shut the door on the Crimson Tide. Still on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, Clemens let in a run but quelled the Alabama rally, preserving the one-run lead and earning the complete game victory and Texas' fourth national championship. Clemens' final line: nine innings, three earned runs, no walks and nine strikeouts. Nonetheless, Schiraldi was named the series' Most Outstanding Player.
The victory marked the second, and final championship in the career of Texas coach Cliff Gustafson. The coach would remain at the helm of the Longhorns until 1996, posting a record 1,427 wins.
"I'm so proud of this bunch," Gustafson said. "Truthfully, the talent on this ballclub isn't as good as some of the talent we've had on other ballclubs. That's what makes this one so sweet."
Little did Gustafson know that Clemens, who wasn't an All-American like Schiraldi or even all-conference like Killingsworth, would become the greatest pitcher of his generation. Clemens' performance in the '83 title game served as an oracle of things to come.
Robin Ventura may have garnered even more attention for college baseball than the Grand Illusion play did. Oklahoma State's sophomore third baseman carried an NCAA-record 56-game hitting streak into the 1987 College World Series, drawing comparisons to Joe DiMaggio and focusing national interest on Omaha.
Ventura extended the streak to 58 before meeting Stanford and two future major league pitchers in a June 4 game. Jack McDowell retired him on three fly balls and a line-out to third base before a two-out single in the ninth gave Ventura a final chance to extend his streak against reliever Al Osuna.
Ventura hit a sharp grounder that was bobbled twice by second baseman Frank Carey, who then threw the ball away, allowing Ventura to reach second base. Many thought the play should have been scored an infield hit followed by a throwing error, but official scorer Lou Spry ruled it a two-base error. Though it brought his record streak to an end, Ventura agreed with the decision.
Oklahoma State won the game 6-2, but three days later lost a championship-game rematch with McDowell 9-5, as Stanford earned the national championship.
McDowell and Ventura would see their baseball careers cross paths again. Two days before he ended Ventura's streak, McDowell was selected in the first round of the draft by the White Sox. One year later, the club used its first-round pick on Ventura. The two would become teammates with the Sox for five seasons, giving them plenty of time to relive their famous CWS meeting.
When the dust cleared--35 runs, 39 hits, and eight home runs after the 1998 College World Series championship game started--a new champion was crowned, 52 records were broken or tied, and the need for change in college baseball was evident.
Southern California defeated Arizona State 21-14 for its 12th championship in a game in which both teams broke the previous title-game mark for runs scored. Second baseman Wes Rachels led the way for the Trojans, going 5-for-7 with a home run and seven RBIs (a championship game record) as he was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
To call the game a slugfest is an understatement. New marks were established in total runs, hits, RBIs and total bases, and both teams tied the previous championship game record with four home runs apiece. Even the game's length--3 hours and 59 minutes--and attendance--24,456--established new highs.
"I've never seen anything like this. I'm sure we still missed some," said Jim Wright, NCAA director of statistics. "Hopefully, they will give us a raise for all the extra work we did during this game because of the records."
The Trojans jumped out to an early 8-0 lead behind two homers from Rob Gorr and one from Rachels, knocking out the Sun Devils' ace starter, lefty Ryan Mills. The eight runs were far from enough, however. Arizona State battled back with a grand slam from Michael Collins and a two-run homer from Jeff Phelps to pull within one in the fourth.
Despite all the offensive fireworks, the game's most vital play may have been a bit of small ball. In the seventh, with the game still tight, USC's Morgan Ensberg stole home with the bases loaded and two outs, pushing the Trojans' lead to 12-8.
Though the Sun Devils kept the game tight, they never able to catch up. The game was finally put out of reach in the top of the ninth, when USC's Jason Lane--who also got the win on the mound in relief--capped the fireworks with a grand slam. Trojans reliever Jack Krawczyk, who entered with a two-run lead in the eighth, finished up for his 23rd save and 49th of his career, setting the single-season and career mark in his biggest game.
The pinball game of a championship was a fitting end to what was the most offensive season in college baseball history. Two months after Lane's grand slam, college baseball adopted significant changes to curb the offensive dominance. The NCAA rules committee recommended major changes to the aluminum bats, mandating that they perform more like wood bats. Offense had dipped about 20 percent since the record-setting '98 season in the ensuing five seasons, putting the game back in balance.
Rosenblatt Stadium has never been as electric as in the 1991 College World Series, when Creighton became the first local school to compete for the national title. Even Nebraska's two trips in 2001 and 2002 couldn't duplicate the scene.
The climax came when the Bluejays met rival Wichita State in a June 3 game that would put the winner two victories away from a championship. A then-record crowd of 18,206 jammed Rosenblatt to witness what became a classic game.
Creighton sent star righthander Alan Benes to the mound, while Wichita State countered with an ace of its own, Tyler Green. Alan's older brother Andy, then pitching for the Padres, flew to Omaha to watch the game. He brought teammates Dennis Rasmussen, a former Bluejay, and Phil Stephenson, the victim of the Grand Illusion.
The game turned into a pitcher's duel, as Benes and Green demonstrated why they were worthy of a first-round draft pick. Green, who had been selected by the Phillies earlier that day, struck out a career-high 14 in nine innings. Benes, who went to the Cardinals two years later, pitched four-hit ball with no walks in 8 1/3 innings. Both pitchers allowed just two unearned runs, forcing the game into extra innings.
Shockers center fielder Jim Audley was the hero. He beat out an infield hit in the top of the 12th and came around to score, putting Wichita ahead 3-2. In the bottom of the inning, with Creighton threatening to tie, Audley threw out pinch-runner Steve Burns at the plate to end the game.
"The game was the greatest moment for me in Omaha," said Skip Bertman, who was scouting the game. "I became enthralled as a fan. I can remember the banging of the seats by the Creighton fans. I can remember the stadium shaking. I could feel my seat move.
"That was one of the greatest games ever. The people of Omaha really jumped into that."
Omaha's partisan fans packed Rosenblatt again three days later when the teams met again. The Shockers won easily this time, advancing to the finals, where they lost to Bertman and Louisiana State.
Of all the great pitching performances in College World Series history, arguably the most dominating single outing in a title game came from a freshman.
In the 1993 College World Series, Louisiana State made the title game by the thinnest of margins. After posting comebacks in their first two games, the Tigers used a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Long Beach State 6-5 in the semifinals. The victory put LSU in the championship game, but cost them star senior lefthander Mike Sirotka, who threw all nine innings.
Facing Wichita State for the title, Tigers coach Skip Bertman had no hesitation in sending freshman Brett Laxton to the mound. "I just wasn't worried about the guy being nervous," Bertman said. "It never crossed my mind."
Laxton proved his coach's confidence was justified. The Tigers jumped on top early when second baseman Todd Walker hit a two-run homer in the first inning, padding his credentials as the series' Most Outstanding Player. Louisiana State added three runs in the second and two more in the third, as Walker and center fielder Armando Rios combined to drive in seven of the Tigers' eight runs on the day.
As it turned out, Walker's first-inning shot gave Laxton all the runs he needed. Throwing mostly fastballs with the occasional slider, Laxton overpowered the Shockers, never allowing a runner past second base in notching a shutout. Laxton finished with 16 strikeouts to go with his three-hitter, breaking the championship-game record set by Arizona State's Tom Burgess in 1967. His shutout was also the first and only in a series finale since 1961, when Southern California's Jim Withers turned the trick.
"It's been a long time since anybody beat us like that with one pitch," Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson said. "We were looking fastball, and we got a truckload of them."
Louisiana State rode Laxton's truckload of fastballs to its second championship in three years. The preeminent team of the 1990s went on to win five from 1991-2000.
When Warren Morris arrived at Louisiana State in 1992, he didn't fit the bill of someone destined to make college baseball history.
Morris entered school on an academic scholarship, and made the baseball team as a 5-foot-11, 150 pound walk-on. "I looked around," Morris said, "and the only person I was bigger than was the equipment manager."
He spent the 1993 season as a redshirt behind All-American second baseman Todd Walker. After Walker's departure, however, Morris took advantage of the opening and earned the starting nod at second, a role he would keep for three years. He worked hard on the field as well as in the classroom, adding 20 pounds and earning a 3.57 grade-point average as a pre-med zoology major.
His humble, persevering attitude is why coach Skip Bertman called what happened to Morris early in 1996 the saddest thing he'd seen at Louisiana State. Morris, a preseason All-American, was hampered by wrist problems that limited him to 14 regular-season starts. After being mystified all season as to the cause of his troubles, doctors finally diagnosed a broken hamate bone in Morris' right hand.
Morris had surgery to remove the bone April 24, putting in jeopardy his prospects for the postseason and the Atlanta Olympics as well. The resilient Morris missed just 28 days before triumphantly returning to earn all-tournament honors at the NCAA South II Regional.
And so a healthy Morris found himself strolling to the plate on June 8 in the bottom of the ninth of the championship game, in a situation every young ballplayer dreams about. With the Tigers trailing 8-7, Miami closer Robbie Morrison had just struck out catcher Tim Lanier, leaving Brad Wilson at third base with the Hurricanes only one out away from winning the College World Series.
As Morris prepared for the most important at-bat of his life, someone in the Tigers dugout remarked, "Warren hasn't hit a home run all season."
There have been a number of dramatic hits in CWS play, but it took 50 years for a walk-off home run to determine the national championship. On the first pitch, Morris crushed Morrison's curveball on a line toward the right-field fence. As he rounded first base, Morris screamed as he watched the ball just clear the wall, sending LSU to a heart-stopping 9-8 victory and the national title in a script too perfect for Hollywood. Miami third baseman Pat Burrell lay face down in the infield as Morris rounded the bases exulting, an image captured in a picture that ran nationwide.
"I hadn't hit a home run in so long, I didn't know what one looked like," Morris said.
The one and only home run of Morris' season proved to be the only two-out, walk-off, come-from-behind home run ever in the deciding game of a World Series, major leagues included.
Bill Mazeroski? The game was tied. Kirk Gibson? It came in the first game. Joe Carter? If he didn't take Mitch Williams deep, the Blue Jays could have come back the next day with another chance to win the championship.
Warren Morris, meanwhile, who came to LSU as a walk-on with an academic scholarship, hit the most clutch home run ever in a World Series.
"Isn't it ironic that Warren Morris would be there to hit his first home run of the year?" Bertman asked rhetorically. "That shows you that the kids who are the greatest always come through."
Warren Morris isn't the only Louisiana State player to win a College World Series championship game in the bottom of the ninth. In the 2000 CWS, catcher Brad Cresse--who arrived in Baton Rouge the year after Morris' title-winning shot--enjoyed some heroics of his own.
Cresse, who led the nation with 30 home runs, 217 total bases and 106 RBIs, is lucky he even had the opportunity to bat with the winning run on base in the title game.
Stanford took a 5-2 lead over the Tigers into the eighth inning, on the strength of a grand slam by first baseman Craig Thompson and the pitching of star righthanders Jason Young and Justin Wayne.
Only six outs away from defeat, the Tigers rallied against Wayne, who had already been drafted fifth overall by the Expos and had stymied LSU with seven strikeouts in his first three innings of relief. Senior third baseman and team captain Blair Barbier, fresh off a motivational team speech in the dugout, fought off several two-strike pitches before launching a solo homer to leftfield, bringing the Bayou-flavored crowd to its feet.
The rattled Wayne then walked freshman Wally Pontiff, and after getting an out faced another senior, outfielder Jeremy Witten. Down 1-2 in the count, Witten fouled off a pitch before lining a home run to left field, tying the game at five and setting the stage for another LSU senior to cap the comeback.
Despite his gaudy regular season numbers, Cresse was 1-for-12 with eight strikeouts in the CWS when he stepped to the plate to face Wayne in the bottom of the ninth with runners on first and second and no outs. Cresse had struck out on three pitches in both of his previous at-bats against Wayne, but he lined a 0-1 pitch (the eighth straight slider he'd seen from Wayne) into left field to plate the winning run, earning LSU its fifth title in the previous 10 years.
Ryan Theriot, who scored from second on Cresse's single, slid across the plate and then tossed his batting helmet into the crowd. The rest of the Tigers surrounded him, and then ran to embrace Cresse, who was standing alone on the basepaths.
"You always want to go out winning the national championship, and it came true," Cresse said. "Last night, I dreamt about being up at the plate with the winning run on base. I dreamt of a home run, but I'll take a single."
Though Cresse's single may not have traveled as far as Morris' home run, it certainly went a long way towards earning him a spot alongside Morris in the hearts of Tigers fans.