Commentary

Beckham's blast ignites Georgia rally

Originally Published: June 23, 2008
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- With a safe lead earlier in the tournament, Georgia coach David Perno joked that he was finally ready to see slugging shortstop Gordon Beckham snap the school record for career homers.

Perhaps owing to his sense of heightened drama, Beckham told his coach he was willing to wait a few nights to make his record-breaking blast really memorable.

"Everybody was giving me a bunch of grief for not breaking that record," Beckham said. "I told Coach I wanted to break it when we really needed it the most. Tonight, I guess, was a pretty good time to do it."

Beckham snapped out of a recent power slump Monday night when his team most needed it. His two-run homer ignited a four-run eighth-inning rally that powered the national No. 8 seed Bulldogs to a 7-6 victory over Fresno State in the first game of the College World Series finals.

There was little doubt about Beckham's 27th homer of the season, which he powered deep into the left-field seats. It enabled him to claim the school record for career home runs with 52, one more than Josh Morris had from 2004 to 2006.

But Beckham's blast wasn't the only big hit in the inning for Georgia (44-23-1), which took control in the best-of-three series thanks to its latest late-inning rally. Run-scoring doubles by Matt Cerione and Joey Lewis finished the comeback and helped deflate Fresno State's Cinderella hopes that had looked so promising after its own three-run rally earlier in the inning.

The other Bulldogs (45-31) have been doing it throughout the tournament as an unlikely fourth seed from the Long Beach Regional. And their success with a makeshift rotation of pitchers made for a certain amount of creeping doubt for Beckham and Perno before Georgia's answering rally.

"I was honestly thinking in the eighth, when they scored three runs, what I was going to say to the team if we lost," Beckham said.

But the biggest reason for Georgia's late charge is Beckham, an All-American who was picked eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox in the recent Major League Baseball draft.

[+] EnlargeGordon Beckham
AP Photo/Eric FrancisGordon Beckham broke Georgia's home run record when the Dawgs needed it most.

Coming into Monday's game, Beckham had struggled in Omaha throughout his career. He had failed to produce an RBI and had collected only one extra-base hit in his first three games at the CWS this season. And he collected an infield hit in eight at-bats when the Bulldogs were eliminated with two losses in 2006.

After Fresno State relief ace Brandon Burke threw a fastball past him on the first pitch, Beckham choked up, merely hoping for a hit. The fat fastball hung over the plate long enough for Beckham to do more than merely hope to advance the runner at first base.

"I thought it was a decent pitch," Beckham said. "I was surprised I was able to pull it like I did. It was over the plate. I got a hold of it. In the back of my mind, I knew I needed to hit something hard."

Beckham's soothsaying his home runs isn't new. He said he called a similar shot against Arkansas in his freshman season and continually has mesmerized his teammates with his power-hitting exploits.

"I kind of joke around with them, but it comes true every once in a while," Beckham said.

But Beckham's sense of drama doesn't surprise Perno, who has marveled at Beckham's makeup from his first day at college.

"He's just a great player, the best I've ever been around," Perno said. "He's the most talented kid I've coached and probably I will coach for quite some time. Every day, I'm searching for the next Beckham."

[+] EnlargeRich Poythress
AP Photo/Ted KirkMatt Cerione's double drove in Rich Poythress in the eighth inning.

Perhaps as important as Beckham's power surge were a couple of other parts of Georgia's victory. The Dawgs got a solid seven-inning starting performance from Trevor Holder, who gamely limited Fresno State to four hits despite taking a stinging shot off his shin in the third.

Georgia relief ace Joshua Fields, who had struggled in several non-save performances earlier in the tournament, rebounded when his team needed him to protect its narrow lead. He pitched a clean ninth inning to convert his 18th straight save opportunity, putting Georgia within one win of its first title since 1990.

And although Fresno State's grittiness has been toasted throughout the tournament, Georgia's pluckiness has been almost as memorable. Before the tournament began, Georgia was 6-7 in May, including two straight losses at the SEC tournament. Then the Bulldogs dropped their first game in the Athens Regional to Lipscomb.

Since then, Georgia has rolled to 10 victories in its past 11 games and has been the hottest team in Omaha. Included in the surge have been come-from-behind CWS wins that overcame a ninth-inning deficit against Miami and a seventh-inning deficit against Stanford.

But the biggest rally came Monday, thanks to the dramatics ignited by Beckham.

"This was huge for us," Beckham said. "We came back against a great team. Those guys are good and had a big chance to win it. But we just overcame."

Tim Griffin covers college sports for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Tim at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.