Titans' bullpen trio shuts down Texas

Updated: June 27, 2004, 2:18 AM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- With the game on the line, with the tying run at the plate with one out in the bottom of the ninth and the ultra-important Game 1 of the College World Series on the line, Dave Serrano had no choice.

The Cal State Fullerton pitching coach had to turn to his closer. He had to walk to the mound, touch his left arm and call on Ryan Schreppel, the man that leads the Titans in saves.

With two.

Four pitches and one fielder's choice error later, Serrano scratched that plan. He walked to the mound, touched his right arm and called for Mike Martinez, who was tied for second on the Titans in saves.

With one.

It's been that sort of year for the Titans, following the departure of uber-closer Chad Cordero, who saved 34 games from 2001-2003 and now closes games for the Montreal Expos. There's no Huston Street. No Buck Cody. No J. Brent Cox.

But on this night, that was a good thing.

It's gonna happen. I'm doing the best I can do. I don't mind [blown saves]. That's a part of being a closer. I can handle the failure. I'll be just as ready tomorrow if it's first and second with nobody out in the seventh. I want the ball.
Texas pitcher Huston Street
While Texas' highly touted bullpen trio struggled in the opening game of the best-of-three championship series, Fullerton's much-maligned group shined, tossing 2 1/3 innings of no-run, no-hit baseball. What was supposed to be Texas' strength turned out to be its weakness. What was supposed to be Fullerton's weakness turned out to be its strength.

"We do have a bullpen," head coach George Horton said. "Tonight, Dave made every move at the right time and got the key outs."

Before Game 1, the Fullerton bullpen had five saves all season. The group entered the College World Series having given up nine hits and seven earned runs in 6 2/3 postseason innings.

Texas, on the other hand, was 41-1 when it led after six innings. It had yet to lose a game when Street entered in a save situation.

But it didn't matter. The three guys with ERA's over four (Vinnie Pestano, 5.00, Schreppel, 6.16 and Martinez 4.06) outpitched the guy with the ERA under 2.00 (Street, 1.49).

"I don't think anybody knows why those things happen," Horton said. "It worked out tonight. If not, you would be asking me why I did what I did."

The seventh inning was the difference. After Justin Turner and Clark Hardman led off with back-to-back singles, Texas coach Augie Garrido didn't hesitate to call on Street, arguably the greatest closer in college baseball. He struck out No. 3 and No. 4 hitters Kurt Suzuki and P.J. Pilittere before Danny Dorn laced a double into the right field gap, scoring Turner and Hardman and giving Fullerton a 5-4 lead. Felipe Garcia followed that up with a base hit, scoring Dorn.

Blown save.

"It's gonna happen," Street said. "I'm doing the best I can do. I don't mind [blown saves]. That's a part of being a closer. I can handle the failure. I'll be just as ready tomorrow if it's first and second with nobody out in the seventh. I want the ball."

In the Texas seventh, Fullerton starter Ricky Romero labored, giving up a line out to Ryan Russ, a double to Michael Holliman and falling behind 3-and-1 to Johnston before being pulled for Pestano.

He walked Johnston. Then gave up a mammoth, home-run-length foul ball to Texas' hottest hitter, Curtis Thigpen, before getting him to pop out to first.

One side shined, the other side struggled. Game over. When asked about the Fullerton bullpen after the game, Garrido wasn't in any mood to talk.

"They did good," Garrido said.

Asked to elaborate, he said, "No."

As for the Texas ninth inning, Serrano had the entire inning mapped out. Pestano was only allowed to finish the game if he retired the first two hitters. When he hit Hunter Harris with his first pitch of the inning, he was done.

Schreppel was then brought in to turn around switch-hitter Michael Hollimon. After Hollimon reached on a fielder's choice -- a play in which Neil Walton's toss to second pulled Justin Turner off the bag, he was done.

It was Martinez's turn. With one out, he struck out Stubbs. Then induced Seth Johnston into a fielder's choice at second.

Not bad for a third starter who realized found out about his new role some two hours before game time.

"When I showed up to the ballpark today, I saw my name on the list for the closing job," Martinez said. "That's when I knew. I'd rather start, but at this point, we'll do whatever it takes to help the team win."

It's not the most conventional way to end games. Just ask the 2003 Boston Red Sox. But here in Omaha, it has worked. The Titans' bullpen has yet to be scored upon in eight innings of work. But don't think they're getting cocky just yet.

When asked about Game 2 starter Jason Windsor after Saturday's win, designated hitter Felipe Garcia showered all the necessary praise. And then revealed a hint of feelings about the bullpen.

"I'm hopeful we can ride that horse all nine innings," he said.

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.

ALSO SEE