In the pressure cooker of postseason play, a veteran's home run can make all the difference.
Well, at least that's what was written here Sunday, after Wayne Taylor's mammoth three-run eighth inning blast saved Stanford's season at Indiana. Exactly one day later, it's time to slightly modify that original sentence, because history has simultaneously repeated and one-upped itself.
It should now read something like this: In the bottom of the ninth inning of a winner-take-all game 7, a freshman's jack can serve as the ultimate ticket.
As his team trailed 4-3 with a runner on second base in its final chance, youngster Tommy Edman etched his name into Stanford lore Monday night, launching a baseball high into the Bloomington night. Indiana right fielder Will Nolden tracked its path, but ran out of real estate. The ball vanished over the fence.
Stanford 5, Indiana 4. Game over. Three elimination games conquered. Regional championship decided.
Oh, and it was the first home run of Edman's life from the left side of the plate.
After five hours, 51 minutes that included a nearly three hour lightning/rain delay, controversial biceps-kissing post-home run antics, and a dugout clearing incident, the visitors (designated as the home team on the scoreboard by NCAA Tournament rule) produced an instant classic; one of the most memorable finishes in Stanford history.
The ensuing scene was surreal: The once-raucous Indiana gathering suddenly sat in stunned silence. Nolden hung with his arms draped over the fence, staring at the departed baseball on the other side that had become his opponents' golden ticket to Nashville. Stanford players, meanwhile, mobbed wildly at home plate while a handful of Cardinal fans danced deliriously on top of their team's dugout.
Let's begin with this: For the 2014 edition of Stanford baseball, the going is anything but ordinary.
Assistant coach Ryan Garko said the Cardinal's philosophy all year had been to reach opponents' bullpens. Stanford conquered Indiana's vaunted relief corps in consecutive must-win outings. The Hoosiers entered Sunday in firm control of the proceedings, boasting a 39-0 mark when leading at any point after seven innings. A day later, that record suddenly stands at a not-so-perfect 39-2, and Stanford is fueling its jet for a Super Regional at Vanderbilt next weekend.
In a 24 hour span, the veteran Taylor and the freshman Edman delivered moments that have flirted with Paul Carey territory. The freshman outfielder's walk-off grand slam against LSU in 1987, which kept Stanford alive on the way to its first College World Series championship, remains the greatest hit in program history to this day.
But Edman's blast was reminiscent of Carey's, and it has bought Stanford extra time to pile on more heroics in what has turned into a magical campaign. The Cardinal, considered to be in a rebuilding year after scuffling to an 11-16 start, have now put two massive exclamation points on a 23-8 run that began in mid-April. Vanderbilt swept the Cardinal in Nashville before the hot streak started, so this upcoming Super Regional represents an excellent chance for Stanford to show just far it has progressed since its early season struggles.
It also brings an opportunity for the Farm Boys to punch a return ticket to Omaha. Despite featuring a stockpile of elite talent, Stanford hasn't been to the College World Series since 2008, when they won four consecutive elimination games in the Regional round before upending Cal State Fullerton on the road in the Supers.
That 2008 team was certainly distinct from this one; it relied on a bevy of high-powered mashers back in the days of supercharged aluminum bats. But this 2014 club's propensity to stave off elimination (they likely had to sweep a season-ending road series at Utah just to qualify for this comeback-laden postseason), erase deficits, and deliver the clutch hit is reminiscent of that 2008 squad in at least one important way.
An Epic Contest
On Monday, the Cardinal came back not once, but twice against the same Indiana team they had stunned the night before. The Hoosiers grabbed an early 3-0 lead before a two hour, 51-minute lightning/rain delay seemed to breathe offensive life into Stanford. Right out of the break, the Cardinal rallied for two runs to cut the lead to one.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Dominic Jose -- whose single was also an integral component of Sunday's comeback rally -- ripped a violent shot over the right field fence that tied the game at three. Jose kissed in his biceps muscle in a smiling celebration with his teammates at home plate, angering much of the partisan crowd and kicking the decisive game's intensity into overdrive.
That's when -- in true Game 7 fashion -- Marquess called to the bullpen for Cal Quantrill. Stanford's freshman ace had thrown 104 pitches in a complete game just three days earlier. But his scheduled Monday bullpen work would take place on the diamond instead, in the biggest spot of the Cardinal's season. Quantrill retired Indiana's Sam Travis to escape a jam to end the seventh, and the two engaged in a fiery yelling match that cleared both dugouts after Travis slammed his bat in frustration.
"That was just heat of the moment," Quantrill said. "I'm glad he didn't get after me. He's a pretty big guy."
In the midst of palpable tension, the Hoosiers did sneak across the unearned go-ahead run following a Stanford throwing error in the eighth, but that simply served as the prelude to Edman's now-immortalized blast.
Taylor delivered again, leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with a base hit to center field. Marquess used Drew Jackson as a pinch runner before calling on Brett Michael Doran to bunt.
But Stanford's small ball ended up irrelevant, as Edman was ready to play long ball on the very first pitch -- though he may have surprised himself in the process.
"I was just trying to get on base, to be honest," Edman said. "A home run was the last thing I expected."
A fastball inside, though, was the first thing he anticipated. Edman got every bit of Scott Effross' pitch, lashing it into the nighttime sky, toward Nashville, and into a Stanford victory for the ages.
A night after upperclassmen Taylor and A.J. Vanegas -- Stanford's old guard -- were the heroes, the freshmen Edman and Quantrill had come through along with the sophomore Marcus Brakeman who pitched 4.2 one-run innings through the long rain delay.
New day, different heroes. Stanford had survived on the road to Omaha with a simple, magical, and awesome formula.
"This year's been really, really special, because we really struggled. We were under .500 for over half the year, with a lot of young pitching especially," Marquess told Baseball America's Aaron Fitt. "I've coached long enough, there's been a lot of special teams... It's a very special moment in our baseball program."
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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