As I entered the gates of Oxford University Stadium/Swayze Field Monday, there was little difference than the days before.
Of course, there was the distinct air of baseball in the Oxford skies, but the doldrums of Monday rarely excite the sports fan without Monday Night Football on the horizon. Being your typical Mississippi June, the heat was unkind, with the humidity only adding to the misery.
Nerves were running high throughout the stands, as 8,255 fans waited anxiously for a win-or-go-home affair between the hometown Rebels and WKU.
As I made my way to the back row of the outside seating of the press box to take my seat, questions were already beginning to be asked. Which team's depleted arms would go first? In fact, I had written for readers to expect a slugfest in a notebook just hours earlier.
Sophomore Drew Pomeranz would take the mound for Ole Miss, despite working 8.0 innings and surrendering one run on five hits with two walks and 10 strikeouts against Monmouth two days prior. WKU starter Matt Ridings was also throwing on short rest, after pitching 6.1 innings and allowing four earned runs against Missouri on the same day.
Someone would surely fold. I mean, how often do you see a pair of pitchers be effective and go deep into a game with no time to recoup? Three-to-five innings was my thought. We'll probably see Aaron Barrett, David Goforth and possibly Phillip Irwin at some point in time.
But after opening the game with seven strikeouts against the first nine batters he faced, it was clear to all in attendance that something special was brewing. Actually, Curt Shilling-like when all was said and done.
"Legendary," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco of Pomeranz's performance. "We talked about it in our coaches' meeting this morning, that he was the type of guy that would give you that Curt Shilling, bloody sock type performance that people would remember for the rest of their lives. What can you say when you have that kind of performance?"
In all honesty, Monday's heroics can hardly be put into words.
Any fan of Major League Baseball can recall the fateful Game Six of the 2004 American League Championship Series where Shilling, pitching with a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle, pitched seven innings of one run ball to pull the series even with the arch rival New York Yankees.
Boston would go onto win the series, before making quick work of the St. Louis Cardinals to capture their first World Series title since 1918.
When you compare the ramifications of that game to those of Monday night, it's easy to see why Pomeranz's masterpiece will surely earn a place in Ole Miss lore.
There's no doubting the significance of Sunday's loss. After jumping ahead 9-3, the Rebels surrendered six runs in the eighth without an out ever being recorded. Jake Wells' homerun in the top of the ninth erased all good will from the previous two days, with many left to wonder how Ole Miss could possibly respond in the finale.
Sure, players and coaches alike were spewing the typical rhetoric of "flushing" and "200 feet", but falling so notoriously could have had a resounding affect on the course of the program. The mental fabric of Ole Miss baseball was in jeopardy.
But in his 14th (and easily most important) start of the year, Pomeranz carved up a potent WKU offense. With the weight of his team on his 6-foot-5 shoulders, the talented southpaw finished his complete game two-hitter with a school record 16 strikeouts over the course of 119 pitches.
If there was ever a doubt to who the ace of the Rebel staff was before the game, the lefty from Germantown firmly answered. While Scott Bittle was tremendous throughout the year, Pomeranz has become the stabilizing force and quiet warrior that spearheads Ole Miss' aspirations for Omaha.
Hilltopper third baseman Wade Gaynor, who launched a three-run homer to tie Sunday's game at 9-9, did his best to put Pomeranz's performance into perspective.
"I'm going to go ahead and say it – that was the best pitcher I've seen this year," he said. "He was really good."
"Drew Pomeranz was special tonight," WKU coach Chris Finwood, the 2009 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year added. "He pitched like a big leaguer. He certainly deserved the Most Valuable Player award in this regional. He was the difference."
Countless times this season, Pomeranz has taken the ball on a usual Friday night and given Ole Miss a chance in most of his starts. He's not really one for words, but is gracious with the media, though offering little of himself in interviews.
On Monday, however, he saved a season. In the postgame press conference, there was no need for lustrous remarks. When we all look back on the actions of yesterday, we'll understand Pomeranz's message loud and clear.
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