As a fan, that was a pretty painless and stress-free game. Completely out of character for this Stanford baseball team in the post-season, the Card never trailed. There was no hole dig out of, nor was there any moment where Fullerton seriously threatened to challenge that lead. A 1-0 advantage grew to three runs and then four before the Titans could even muster their third hit of the game. Sure, they did manage to put a run across home plate with men in scoring position, but there was an undeniable advantage working throughout the game that put Cardinalmaniacs™ at ease: pitching. After his most dismal performance of the year in the CWS opener againt Tulane, where he gave up 5 runs in less than 2 innings, Jeremy "Woody" Guthrie bounced back with some of his best stuff. His control and changing speeds were on. Guthrie did not walk a batter until the 7th inning, and even more impressively drew several ground outs in the situations where he did get behind in the count (2-0, 3-0, 3-1). Pitches were kept down in the strike zone in a well called game by catcher Ryan Garko.
And when Jeremy was pulled after an opening single in the 8th inning - just the 4th hit he gave up in the game - Jeff "Breakneck" Bruksch came in and put the nails in the proverbial CWS coffin. Bruksh allowed no hits, walking just one batter while striking out two, over the final two innings for the save. Though Bruksch was for most of the season the #2 starter in the Stanford rotation, he has come on in a closing role twice in this College World Series. Both times, he has shut down opposing hitters and recorded the save. With Stanford's flawless record in this CWS, Coach Marquess has had the luxury of taking some as dominating as Bruksch and retaining him as a closer. That leaves Mike "Goose" Gosling to throw Saturday on five days rest. Should he throw a lot of pitches early or not have his stuff, Bruksch will be completely ready to go long innings, in addition to the regular middle-relief staff (Wilcox, Wodnicki, McCally, Cunningham). That luxury is like the luxury of bringing a flamethrower to a knife fight. I love it.
While it is true that great pitching (LSJU) will beat great hitting (CSF), Stanford's own hitting came through to match Guthrie's performance in a solid 4-1 win. The first run came for the second time in the Series on #9's decision to go with Brian Hall over a slumping Jason Cooper. In the mammoth comeback against Tulane last Friday, a pinch-hit decision to go to Hall for Cooper with the bases loaded brought a RBI base on balls and continued momentum in a 7-run inning. For this Fullerton game, Cooper was replaced by Hall earlier as the starter. You feel bad for the immensely talented Cooper, but Brian Hall is proving to be yet another clutch freshman hitter on this remarkable young team. Hall's big moment came leading off the bottom of the third, when he lifted a 2-0 pitch right down the pipe into left-center field. It was only Brian's second home run in his young Stanford career, but oh so huge.
Stanford would produce one more ding-dong before it was all said and done, also a solo job. Ryan Garko absolutely crushed his homer to straight-away center for the fourth and final run of the game in the bottom of the seventh. Garko, who is making a big case for CWS MVP also played a big role in Stanford's 2-run fourth inning, when he sucked it up and took a pitch off his left arm. He was the first baserunner to start off that inning, and would come around to score the 2nd run of the game when a somewhat slumping Andy "Top That!" Topham lined a bases-loaded single up the middle. In the increasingly publicized theme of the "Fab Four Freshmen," Carlos "San" Quentin and Johnny "Flash" Ash followed Garko's HBP with back-to-back singles to juice the bases for Topham. Arguably, Garko could have (should have?) come home on Ash's single, but that was rendered moot with the next at bat.
Fullerton put men in scoring position in just two innings. In the third, two one-out singles put runners at the corners, but Guthrie got a ground ball from the next batter for an inning-ending double play. In the seventh, the Titans tagged Guthrie for their single run of the game. The stage was set for scoring with back-to-back walks to open the inning. One runner was thrown out at home, but the subsequent Fullerton double down the first base line would easily plate one run. With men on second and third and two outs, Guthrie K'd a pinch hitter to end the inning and final rally attempt.
Ousted #1 seed Fullerton has had just about enough of Stanford for a while, as 5 of their 18 losses this year have come at the hands of the Card.
In the other half of the CWS bracket, Miami(FL) has taken the same undefeated path as the Cardinal, pitting the two in a single Championship game on Saturday at noon (10 am Pacific time). Though the prior play in the Series has been double-elimination and both teams are without a loss, Saturday's game will definitely be for all the marbles.