The brain trust of the College World Series came up with a catchy marketing phrase before the event switched venues last year.
“History Happens Here.”
It was a gentle reminder that the CWS is more about personalities than parks, more about achievement and accomplishments than bricks and mortar.
Thank you, Michael Roth, for driving that point home.
The South Carolina left-hander emerged as a championship force when the CWS played its last games at Rosenblatt Stadium. He continued working his magic a year ago when the event moved to TD Ameritrade Park. And he did everything he could to give his team one last chance this year to dogpile in Omaha.
He came up short but did nothing Monday night in a 4-1 loss to Arizona to diminish his legacy as one of the best pitchers — if not the best — to ever take the mound at the CWS.
He owns records: most innings pitched (60-1/3), most starts (eight), most hit batsmen (eight). He has four wins and a 1.49 ERA in 10 Omaha appearances. He started the games that ended with South Carolina championships in 2010 and 2011.
He did it relying on more modest physical skills than some of the other greats who have stood out in the CWS. His fastball tops out in the mid-80s. But his passion for the game is off the charts.
Along with reliever Matt Price, who set the CWS record for career wins with five, the Gamecocks had a 1-2 pitching punch that might be unmatched in CWS history.
“They've done it the right way,” South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. “They've done it with passion and enthusiasm. They've appreciated the fan support at home and they've appreciated it out in Omaha. They've tried their hardest and they've been very, very successful on this stage.
“It would take a long time for two guys to have as many appearances, as many innings and as much success that they've had in Omaha in the College World Series. These guys have been very special.”
I've been watching CWS pitchers since the late 1950s. I saw Steve Arlin strike out 20 batters in a game. I wish I'd seen Dave Winfield, perhaps the best college pitcher never to throw a strike after Omaha, take the mound. I did see him hit.
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In covering the event for the past 30 years for The World-Herald, I've seen every pitcher who has come through Omaha. There have been some great ones, but for my money, none are better than Roth.
Chances are, his skill-set won't translate well at the next level. He might never reach the baseball heights that he did in Omaha. Nor will he probably ever have as much fun.
After Monday's loss, teammate Adam Matthews talked about what made Roth and Price such formidable competitors.
“The way they treat the game of baseball is second to none,” the senior outfielder said. “That's shown though in their pitching performances over the past few years. They love the game of baseball.
“They also realize it's a fun game, and you have to have some fun with it. They go out there and battle, yet they're having fun.”
In return, it's been a joy to watch Roth perform these past three years. He'll always be a part of the history that evolves at the new place.
Highs and lows
Before we commit the 2012 CWS to those history books, let's take a quick review of the highs and lows we witnessed the past 10 days.
• Best game: South Carolina and Arkansas hooked up for three good ones at TD Ameritrade, but the second stands out, if only because of the circumstances. Because rain postponed a Wednesday elimination game against Kent State, the Gamecocks had to win twice last Thursday to stay alive. They beat the Golden Flashes on a great performance from Roth, then got an even better one from No. 3 starter Jordan Montgomery in a 2-0 win over the Razorbacks that forced a second bracket championship game.
• Worst moment: I never will understand the narcissism flowing through some folks that makes them think 24,000 other fans would enjoy seeing them parade on to the field and delay the event. The six knuckleheads who did it during Monday's final game are lucky that the new regime is gentler with trespassers than Jesse Cuevas and his crew.
• Best show of courage: Kent State's Jason Bagoly, who came up big for the Golden Flashes a few days after his mother unexpectedly died. He went 2 for 3 to help Kent State eliminate top-seeded Florida.
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• Worst performance: Florida's Gators arrived in Omaha as the team to beat, but played like a bunch of guys who couldn't wait to get on with their pro careers. Their play in losses to South Carolina and Kent State proved raw talent can get you only so far in this game.
• Biggest hit: The game-winning double by Arizona's Brandon Dixon in the ninth inning of the final game. The sophomore was a late-innings defensive specialist who hadn't made solid contact in Omaha until he ripped a slider from Price down the third-base line to break a 1-1 tie.
• Biggest miss: UCLA's Jeff Gelalich is a first-round draft pick, but he had a rough series in Omaha. Gelalich got a hit in his first CWS at-bat but didn't get another after that, going 0 for 10 and striking out three times in his final four at-bats.
• Best play: Arizona reliever Mathew Troupe was playing with fire when he loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth of the last game. Freshman second baseman Trent Gilbert bailed him out, snaring Tanner English's liner up the middle and almost turning it into a season-ending double play. Replays showed Gilbert beat LB Dantzler to the second-base bag after making the catch, but the Wildcats didn't get the call that would have provided a most dramatic ending to the season.
• Hardest pill to swallow: My dad taught me never to blame the umps when things don't go your way, but it's going to be a long summer in Fayetteville after two-bases loaded walks ended the Razorbacks' season. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn took the high road in his public comments about the umpiring, but likely won't be including home plate umpire Perry Costello on his Christmas card list.
• Best quote: “I knew I better do something or I'm never going to be able to live in Columbia again. I left a small village of guys on base in Omaha.” — South Carolina's Matthews, who drew the second bases-loaded walk against Arkansas after failing twice earlier in the game in bases-loaded situations.
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