Suzuki makes memorable final drive

Updated: June 27, 2004, 9:59 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- Just about every day, the question came. And just about every day, George Horton had the same answer.

He didn't know why All-American catcher Kurt Suzuki, the Titans' leader in nearly every offensive category, was struggling at the College World Series. But tomorrow, he insisted, that was going to change. Tomorrow, he insisted, that was going to change. Tomorrow came and went about six different times.

Until Sunday.

Cal State Fullerton
APKurt Suzuki was at the center of the Titans rally -- and dogpile.
With two outs in the seventh inning and the game tied at 2, Suzuki walked to the plate.

"Would you look at that?" Horton proclaimed to senior first baseman P.J. Pilittere in the Titan dugout. "We've got the best hitter in America up in this spot. How about that?"

"Yeah," Pilittere yelled back. "And his favorite hole is wide open."

The best hitter in America who was 2 for his last 20. The best hitter in America who hadn't driven in a single run the entire World Series. The best hitter in America, who was under arguably the brightest spotlight in Omaha, yet in the biggest spot of the Series, turned to his dugout and smiled.

Then, some 10 seconds later, Suzuki lined a single between shortstop and third base, scoring Ronnie Prettyman and giving Cal State-Fullerton a 3-2 win.

"I'm the man and it was time to be the man," Suzuki said. "I was hoping that I was going to get that opportunity. And when I did, I had to pay the guys back for all the times they picked me up all series long. That was for them."

Suzuki knew it was coming. Horton knew it was coming. Pilittere knew it was coming. And for good reason. Despite his scuffles in Omaha, Suzuki, a finalist for the 2004 Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation's top catcher, hit .437 for the season. He hit .500 with runners in scoring position. He had 13 game winning RBI.

So despite his struggles in Omaha, there was good reason he was smiling.

"When that situation presented itself, I just told myself to have fun with it," Suzuki said. "It made no sense to be all nervous. So I relished it and I told the guys before I went up there -- this is for you right here.'"

Entering Omaha, Texas had one of the top bullpens in the country. But three games in a row this bullpen blew the save. On Saturday, it was Buck Cody who was charged with two runs, but J. Brent Cox gave up the go-ahead hit to Suzuki.

Prior to the deciding 1-1 pitch, Fullerton first-base coach Chad Baum yelled, "See it up," to Suzuki. It meant to look for an off-speed pitch. And that's just what Cox threw.

"I listened to my first-base coach, saw the pitch and hit it as well as I could," Suzuki said. "Luckily, it found a hole."

This is why I came to Fullerton. To get up in a situation like that and get the big hit. I couldn't be happier.
Kurt Suzuki, on his final at-bat
For Suzuki, it was more than likely the perfect ending to an illustrious career. The Maui native turned down a scholarship offer from Hawaii to walk-on at Cal State-Fullerton, in part to experience the mainland. And in part to make it to Omaha.

The Big West Player of the Year was a second-round draft pick by the Oakland Athletics and will likely forgo his senior season of eligibility at Fullerton to join the A's organization and catch Titans teammate Jason Windsor, Oakland's third-round pick.

"This is why I came to Fullerton," Suzuki said. "To get up in a situation like that and get the big hit. I couldn't be happier."

Nor could his teammates. But don't think they're going to let him forget anytime soon about his Series struggles. Handed a stat sheet following Sunday's championship-clinching victory over Texas, Pilittere couldn't resist leaning over and taking a shot at Suzuki, his close friend and roommate

"Look at that," he said to the man he calls "Zuk." "Three-for-21 in the series. Some All-American."

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

ALSO SEE