We see it basically every year in one form or another. A player or pitcher who emerges from the shadows to lift his team.
Take Phillip Irwin. For years perhaps not certain he would ever be in a situation like he was Saturday. Not only starting in the Rebels' 5-2 win against Alabama, the fourth-year junior right-hander pitched like he was always supposed to be in that type situation.
Not long after he arrived at Ole Miss, he had Tommy John surgery. That was back in late 2005. That was more than three years ago with many hours of rehab and sweat since, through endless workouts and some rough outings and even some questions.
Like is it all worth it?
If he hadn't already found it, Saturday he got his answer.
Irwin went seven innings and one batter, handing the baton off to Jake Morgan who took the Rebels home.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from Christian Brothers High in Memphis allowed two runs on five hits with just one walk and six big strikeouts.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said he believes Alabama is the best offensive team in the Southeastern Conference. This wasn't your everyday, run of the mill lineup Irwin was facing.
"I just battled out there today," said Irwin, who knows something about battling.
That was his opening statement. He immediately shared the effort with his teammates.
"Jake (Morgan) was tremendous, and (Jeremy) Travis delivered the knockout punch to ‘em," Irwin said.
Travis had taken the Rebels from a 3-2 lead to a 5-2 advantage with one swing of the bat in the fifth, a five-run bottom of the fifth when Ole Miss got all its runs.
With zeros in every other at-bat for the Rebels, it was up to Irwin and Morgan and some outstanding defense by their teammates to take care of things.
Like a near-triple play in the top of the sixth when Ole Miss, now 15-4 on the season and 4-1 in SEC play, almost gave its lead back that it had just worked to get.
Irwin walked Ross Wilson on four straight pitches, the only free pass he delivered on the day. Then slugger Kent Matthes singled to left.
That's when Irwin got a little help from his friends. The Tide's Brandon May ripped one to third, and a leaping Zach Miller snagged it, threw hurriedly but accurately to Kevin Mort at second, who delivered an equally accurate throw to Matt Smith at first.
Just a tad late.
But an obvious disaster was almost completely avoided, and after a strikeout of Tyler Odle, Irwin bounded off the mound to the awaiting congratulations of his teammates.
"Our defense is definitely better this year," Irwin said. "Miller's been great at third base for however many games he's been there. I wish we could have gotten the triple play. That would have been nice."
And since that rarity didn't happen, Irwin just took care of things himself. With two down, that's when Irwin got Odle to strike out, and the potent Tide offense sat down again to a roar from the Ole Miss faithful.
They roared again long and loud for Irwin as he departed following a leadoff single by Taylor Dugas in the top of the eighth.
Enter Jake Morgan and after giving up a single, the sophomore righty got three straight batters to K looking – Wilson after a 3-0 count, power-hitter Matthes on three straight looking, and May, looking on the last one.
After the Rebels went three up, three down, Morgan rolled back out there to finish things off. It went like this: strikeout looking, strikeout swinging, strikeout looking.
"It was a great feeling to do that," said Morgan of his six strikeouts in seven batters faced, five of them looking.
Was he fooling the hitters?
"I don't know," Morgan said. "I was just trying to throw strikes."
The Tide, 14-7 and 2-3, had taken a 1-0 lead with a run in the first. With one out, Irwin hit the next two batters, Josh Rutledge and Ross Wilson, followed by a single from Matthes, which scored Rutledge. But back to back strikeouts followed, and the Rebs were down only a run coming to bat.
"I hadn't hit anybody all year, so I was a little bit mad about that," Irwin said of the back to back hit batsmen. "I just had to calm my thoughts and release and take some deep breaths and make some pitches. There was a whole lot of game left to play."
Alabama added a run in the top of the fifth when Dugas singled to score Jake Smith who had doubled. That gave the visitors a 2-0 lead, but Rebel daytime fireworks were about to explode in the form of that five-run bottom of the fifth.
After a one-out walk by Mort, Brett Basham sent one to Jake Smith, the third baseman, and the ball ricocheted up and into the outfield as Mort cruised into third and Basham stopped at first.
Consider the door open for the Rebels at that moment.
A Jordan Henry single scored Mort, and a Tim Ferguson single scored Basham.
A Logan Power fielder's choice got Henry home as Ferguson was out at second. Then Travis sent it over the left field foul pole, the two-run shot that put the Rebels up 5-2.
"There were two outs and it was a good hitter's count with a 2-1 pitch," Travis said. "I didn't think he was going to be afraid to come inside with a fastball, and that's what he did. Fortunately we got a good call with the fair ball from the umpire. I was fortunate to put a good swing on it."
"I thought it curved after it went past the fence," Travis said, smiling. "So I'd have to say yeah."
Alabama coaches and players disagreed but to no avail.
Starter Adam Morgan (3-1) got the loss.
Afterward, Irwin, 4-0 on the year, was reminded his ERA went up – from 1.59 to 1.85.
"That's funny you say that," he said. "My brother was talking to me last weekend and he was like ‘Yeah, you've got like a 1.5 ERA. Problem is, the only place you've got to go is up."
On this day, with more than 7,400 looking on, and most of them cheering him on, Phillip Irwin couldn't have been any higher.
Neither could the Rebels.
Game three is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Senior LHP Brett Bukvich (3-0, 0.9 ERA) is set to go for the Rebels, while junior LHP Del Howell is the probable starter for the Crimson Tide. Howell made his first start of the season on Tuesday against Alabama A&M, threw six shutout innings and struck out 14 batters.
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