A bit of luck, a lot of hits power Stanford past Florida State
OMAHA, Neb. -- This game will humble you, the old man in the white uniform sometimes tells his boys, and Mike Martin knows this because he's been to 13 College World Series and has yet to take home a national championship. On Saturday, it completely confounded Florida State.
The fourth-seeded Seminoles, heavy favorites for an extended stay at the College World Series, staged an eighth-inning, game-tying rally, only to get rocked in a nightmarish, can't-get-anyone-out ninth in a 16-5 loss to Stanford. When the four-hour, 11-minute game was finally over, and the Cardinal had tied a CWS record for most runs in an inning (11), Rosenblatt Stadium was roughly half-empty.
And Martin, who undoubtedly wished he was among those who left early, was struggling for analogies.
"You ever 4-putted from eight feet with $2 in your pocket and you're playing for a $3 Nassau?" Martin said. "That's about the way we feel right now.
"Just one of those games that, boy, you talk about a roller coaster. We were as excited as we could be when we tied the game up in the eighth inning. But then, of course, the wheels came off."
Martin, a kindly, normally upbeat 64-year-old who likes to use the word "beeeeeeautiful," quietly drifted away from the interview table late Saturday afternoon. He knows the gigantic climb the Seminoles now face. In 27 years, just two teams have lost their opening CWS game and rallied back to win the championship.
Shortly after Martin's exit, Stanford coach Mark Marquess downplayed the idea that Florida State might not be able to recover from the shock of Saturday's 14-batter, two-error ninth.
"I'd rather that happen than to lose by one," Marquess said. "Nothing they can do about that. You don't second-guess yourself. It's just one of those things."
The Seminoles were high and spilling out of the dugout in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Jason Stidham's shot to right field just cleared the wall. Florida State (54-13) was trailing by three and down to four outs, but had been here before. Martin's team played six postseason games on the brink of elimination.
Back-to-back, two-out singles set up Stidham's game-tying blast. When it left his bat, Stidham said, "it was like being on top of the mountain."
Within minutes, the Seminoles stumbled off of it. Cord Phelps and Toby Gerhart led off the ninth with singles, then it looked as if a controversial call could cost the Cardinal dearly. Catcher Jason Castro placed a ball down the first-base line that, according to replays, bounced off the chalk. But umpire Mike Conlin called it foul, even after Marquess calmly spent a couple of minutes pleading his case.
He quickly got over it, especially after shortstop Tony Delmonico's error loaded the bases. Delmonico had two errors in the inning, and the second one helped the Cardinal build a 10-5 lead.
"Tony has been a tremendous part of the success of our program," Martin said. "It was just one of those days when things didn't go right for us."
Thing is, Marquess walked into the stadium early Saturday with a stiff wind blowing out, and wondered if it would be a long day against Florida State's potent offense. Jeremy Bleich scattered six hits and allowed one run over five innings, and freshman Drew Storen stared down a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the bottom of the seventh.
Storen forced two infield popouts, then struck out Delmonico looking.
Storen said he was tired in the eighth, when he gave up Stidham's homer. He thought he'd have to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, and then the Cardinal kept scoring. Phelps' double made it 13-5, then Brent Milleville's homer to left gave the Cardinal a double-digit cushion. Storen finally relaxed. He knew he could rest for the day.
Storen didn't know what to expect from this team, but said the "old guys" -- the 20- and 21-year-olds -- kept saying all fall it was the best Cardinal group they'd played on. Even Marquess was surprised by Stanford's seeming swagger a season after the Cardinal shockingly failed to qualify for the NCAA regionals and has now advanced to a winners' bracket matchup with Georgia on Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).
"They surprised me all year. No question," Marquess said. "But not this day. They don't surprise me now because they've played consistently, really, all year. But from where we came last year, getting picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10, yeah, they surprised me."
In one long inning, they surprised the Seminoles, too. Martin didn't have time Saturday to ponder history, or whether 2008 was destined to be another tough-luck trip to Omaha. He walked out to the late-afternoon sunshine. It was anything but beeeeautiful.
Elizabeth Merrill writes for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROAD TO OMAHA
Bracket | Schedule/results
College World Series finals -- Game 3• Griffin: Fresno State's title is good for sport
• Griffin: From the land of misfits, a champion
• Fresno State shocks Georgia for first CWS title
• Around the Horn: Ace effort
College World Series finals -- Game 2• Griffin: Early struggles spark postseason success
• Fresno State forces Game 3 in 19-10 win
• Around the Horn: Know when to Holden
College World Series finals -- Game 1• Griffin: Beckham calls the shots | Recap
• Around the Horn: Can the Bulldogs bounce back?
• Kimmey: Burning Questions
College World Series -- Day 9• Merrill: CWS attracts a colorful crowd
• Georgia bounces back in big way
• Fresno State stuns UNC to advance to CWS
• Around the Horn: Magic Men
College World Series -- Day 8• McKeever: Georgia's Poythress of steel | Recap
• North Carolina evades elimination on Saturday
• Around the Horn: Flack Attack
College World Series -- Day 7• Pitching powers UNC past LSU | Recap
• Around the Horn: Perfect Pitch
College World Series -- Day 6• North Carolina-LSU suspended because of rain
College World Series -- Day 5• Stanford pitches by committee | Recap
• Around the Horn: Sick Feeling
College World Series -- Day 4• LSU is the Dean of Comebacks | Recap
• Fresno State within a win from the CWS finals
• Around the Horn: Wild Card
College World Series -- Day 3• Miami gets out of a hairy situation | Recap
• Georgia rallies in seventh to edge Stanford
• Around the Horn: Where the wild things are
College World Series -- Day 2• Merrill: Fresno's mighty heart | Recap
• UNC escapes LSU's rally
• Arround the Horn: White's Stripes
College World Series -- Day 1• Merrill: Stanford stuns Florida State | Recap
• Georgia rallies in ninth to down top-seed Miami
• Around the Horn: Fields' Day
College World Series Preview• Merrill: Fresno is crashing the CWS party
• Schlabach: Ring is the thing for FSU's Martin
• Albright: LSU's long and winding road
• Haller: Bulldog mentality suits Fresno State
• Dinich: Hernandez tapped for Miami greatness
• Norwood: Castro making name for himself
• Kimmey: Five burning questions
Super Regional Features• Haller: Fresno State extends Cinderella streak
• Albright: LSU sends Alex Box out in style
• Dinich: Balance key to Miami's success
• Schlabach: FSU survives Wichita, fans
• Norwood: Stanford completes comeback
Super Regional Previews• Griffin: Rice duo eases fans' worries
• Schlabach: Draft on the minds of Georgia stars
• Coaching keys Fullerton's success
• Dinich: NC State's 'pen shuts the door
• Kimmey: Burning super regional questions
Regional Coverage• Griffin: Aggies got a new attitude
• Norwwod: New faces, same story for Fullerton
• Schlabach: Georgia rallies -- again
• McKeever: (Ant)Eaters your hearts out
• Dinich: NC State shows grit
• Griffin: Rice's win is thrice as nice
• Recaps: Monday | Sunday
Regional Previews• Kimmey: Six regional burning questions
• BA: Region-by-region preview
• Albright: UNC's throwing pains
• Albright: ACC's tournament contenders