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Windsor, Suzuki lead Titans to title

By Will Kimmey
June 27, 2004

OMAHA--Jason Windsor's cell phone started ringing as he sat on the dais at the press conference prior to the finals of the College World Series. His specialized ring tone chirped, "Strike three, yer out!"

Texas coach Augie Garrido looked over at the Cal State Fullerton righthander and delivered one of his signature one-liners: "No wonder you're so good, you've got your own umpire in your pocket."

Sunday was no laughing matter for Garrido or his team. Windsor proved his success wasn't the product of gimmickry by throwing his second complete game of the CWS--and 11th of the season--in a 3-2 win that gave the Titans a 2-0 series victory and the national championship.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki, who had just two CWS hits entering the game, made his third one count by driving in the game-winning run with a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh to cap a three-run Fullerton rally.

"Not to taking anything away from the other Titans battling in our dugout, but what a fitting conclusion to have Jason Windsor on the mound to win it and Kurt Suzuki getting the winning hit," Fullerton coach George Horton said. "That's the way to win it."

It marked the first CWS title as a head coach for Horton, who served as an assistant to Garrido on the 1995 Titans championship team. Fullerton became sixth team to win at least four titles, joining Southern California (12), Arizona State (5), Louisiana State (5), Texas (5) and Miami (4). And it capped a stirring season turnaround for Fullerton, which began the season 15-16 and finished by winning 32 out of 38.

"I still have chills, and it's not from the cold water that was just dropped on my head," Horton said. "On one hand this is equally special to accomplish this against your mentor that taught you so much, but my heart goes out to them because they are 180 degrees from what we are feeling right now."

Those feelings were reversed early in Sunday's game. Texas built a 2-0 lead in the first inning and seemed a lock to hold on as the game progressed into the seventh inning. The Longhorns had won 41 of 43 times they led after five innings this year. Fullerton (47-22) was responsible for one of those two losses with a comeback on Saturday, and beat bullpen for the second straight day by scoring three times in the seventh inning.

Horton sent Sergio Pedroza to pinch-hit for shortstop Neil Walton with a runner on first and one out in the inning. Garrido countered by bringing in lefthander Buck Cody. So Horton replaced the lefthanded-hitting Pedroza with Brett Pill, a righthanded hitter who has been the team's best in a pinch all season.

Pill roped a hit down the third-base line that hit the wall in foul territory and bounded past Texas left fielder Hunter Harris, who was in the game for defensive purposes. Pill ended up on third and scored to tie the game on a wild pitch by Cody.

"You've got to be aggressive when you're pinch-hitting," Pill said. "I was looking for a fastball and luckily I got a good piece of it."

Three batters later, Suzuki came to the plate with runners on first and second with two down and J. Brent Cox on the mound. He was in a 2-for-22 slump, but lived up to his Kurt Klutch nickname by shooting a single between the shortstop and third baseman to drove home the deciding run.

"There's no mystery that I had nothing to show for the series before that," Suzuki said. "I knew I just wanted to hit the ball somewhere. I had frustrations but I couldn't let that bother me. I had 24 other teammates that I was trying to win a national championship for. This is why I came to Cal State Fullerton, to be in this type of game and this type of situation."

Texas starter Sam LeCure picked through the Fullerton lineup with ease for the first six innings, allowing just four hits. The Titans couldn't knock him off the mound with base hits, so hitting him was the next best option.

With two runners on and two out in the fifth, second baseman Justin Turner hit a screamer up the middle that looked like an RBI single. It struck LeCure on the outside of his right foot just below the ankle, but third baseman David Maroul picked it up and threw Turner out at first.

LeCure staggered off the field and pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning, but his foot started hurting in the seventh, when Cody got the call from the bullpen.

"I wasn't going to let something like that take me out of the game and hurt this team," said LeCure, who got a no decision in allowing a run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings. "In the seventh, it started getting to me; it started tightening up.

"The bullpen's been successful all year. If I had come out in the third inning, I would have had confidence they would win."

For the third time at this year's CWS, Fullerton didn't need its bullpen. Windsor threw 129 pitches (bringing his Series total to 322), and got better as the game continued. He looked like a 22-year-old who had exceeded his workload in the first inning.

Windsor struggled with his command, allowing two hits, a walk and a hit batsman to help Texas build a 2-0 lead. Windsor had a chance to escape with no damage, but the Titans couldn't turn a double play on a roller to shortstop Neil Walton. That allowed Taylor Teagarden to reach on a fielder's choice and later score on a two-run single by Harris.

"It was a fastball down," Harris said. "I just got the bat on it. I just wish it would have scored three runs."

Texas (58-15) never got another one. Windsor ended the inning by striking out Maroul on a 3-2 fastball that was high enough to have been ball four. Still, he used 34 pitches in the inning and threw just 19 strikes in the inning.

"I wasn't too worried about it," Windsor said. "With the repertoire I have, I can get guys out on one or two pitches and get some quick outs. I've done that before."

He did just that during the rest of the game by working through seven of the final eight innings on 14 or fewer pitches, including six in the third and nine in the eighth and ninth. Pitching coach Dave Serrano noticed that Windsor was over-striding in the first, and helped him correct the problem between innings. He allowed just three hits the rest of the way and finished with 10 strikeouts.

"He came out kind of nervous," Suzuki said. "I was as nervous as he was. I tried to crack a smile on his face. Then I told him just to be himself. When he's himself, he's one of the best pitchers in the country. His attitude when he goes out there is nobody can touch me."

That was the theme of the tournament for Windsor. He allowed just two earned runs on 11 hits in 23 innings while registering 29 strikeouts and six walks. He earned two complete-game wins and a three-inning save for his efforts, as well as CWS most outstanding player honors.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," he said. "It'll take a few days of relaxing before it does. I look at it on paper and I don't believe it's me. It just feels great."

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