Commentary

A bit of luck, a lot of hits power Stanford past Florida State

Originally Published: June 14, 2008
By Elizabeth Merrill | ESPN.com

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.

[+] EnlargeTommy Oravetz and Brent Milleville
AP Photo/Dave WeaverStanford's Brent Milleville made plays in the field and tallied four RBIs in the ninth inning.

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.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Bleich
AP Photo/Ted KirkCardinal ace Jeremy Bleich held Florida State's prolific offense in check.

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 merrill2323@hotmail.com.