Just when you think the Anteaters can't make their games any more exciting, they go ahead and prove you wrong. And when you think they're surely finished, ready to get bounced out of the College World Series and sent home, well you're wrong again.
There were times when it seemed likely that Irvine was surely headed to a little something called the "flamingo funeral." What's that, you ask? Well, the following video should explain. And then we'll take you through the days action, which went from a nice, brisk start to a nail-biting doozy of a finish.
Louisville's Logan Johnson tied a College World Series record with four home runs when he hit a solo shot to put Louisville up 1-0 on North Carolina in the first inning of the first game. But the offensive slugfest many expected (even though the Tar Heels hadn't been hitting well at all here) didn't materialize. Unlike Carolina's first two starters in the CWS, Luke Putkonen was able to stay in the game longer than a couple of innings, and he held the Cardinals to three hits in seven innings of work.
The Louisville pitching wasn't bad either. If not for a throwing error by UL third baseman Chris Dominguez in the second inning, this game could have been knotted at 1-1 the whole way. Instead, the Tar Heels survived with a 3-1 victory.
And that led us to one of the more interesting traditions we've discovered here at the College World Series. In the parking lot outside Rosenblatt Stadium, there is a group of fans that for the last several years has set up a tent where they not only hang out but also display eight plastic pink flamingos -- one for each team in the CWS.
As the eliminations begin, they hold "funerals" for each team's flamingo when the team gets bounced. So after the Tar Heels' victory, we went over to watch them say a short eulogy before putting a black bag over the head of the Louisville flamingo.
The ceremony occurs 30 minutes after each elimination game and draws quite a crowd. It's gotten to the point where Omaha police will put a cone out in the road to block traffic from coming through during the short ceremony.
They even put a little flamingo in the top of the cone, so there's no mistaking what the hold-up is.
Matt does his best Priscilla Barnes impersonation.
When we returned to the stadium, we were worried we'd encountered some sort of time vortex. But it turned out there wasn't any great disturbance in the space-time continuum, Arizona State had just decided to wear their 1981 uniforms for their game against UC Irvine.
Maybe the Sun Devils were hoping that inflation from 1981 runs to 2007 runs would account for a better showing on the scoreboard, but they found themselves in a dogfight with the Anteaters (regardless of neither mascot being of the canine persuasion).
Perhaps the funniest moment from this game came when ASU shortstop Andrew Romine lined a hard foul ball into the seats behind the UCI dugout twice in a row, prompting the 'Eaters fans to stand up and start waving a white handkerchief in surrender to Romine. He made sure not to hit them again but grounded out on the next pitch to drive in the tying run in the top of the seventh inning.
Things got even less funny for Irvine when a ground ball rolled underneath the glove of second baseman Cody Cipriano (though it was ruled a hit) and Arizona State took a 4-3 lead. The Sun Devils tacked on three more runs in the top of the eighth for a 7-3 lead, but if there's one thing the Anteaters have proven this CWS, it's that they're never quite dead.
So it was no surprise when they loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth with nobody out. Then ASU's Jason Jarvis hit UCI's Ben Orloff to make it 7-4 and tie the CWS record for hit batsmen with 36 overall (which was then broken when ASU's Rocky Laguna got plunked to lead off the 10th). Irvine accounted for 11 of those hit batsmen.
Cipriano followed with an RBI single to make it 7-5. Matt Morris doubled home two runs next to tie the game, but third-base coach Greg Bergeron held up the next runner, Cipriano, at third. Literally. Cipriano appeared to grab Bergeron (or vice versa) as the coach tried to get him back to third, leading the umpire to call the batter out automatically. And yes, this really happened. It would come back to haunt Irvine after an intentional walk set up an inning-ending double play. A two-out threat in the bottom of the ninth also produced nothing for the 'Eaters.
But watching this team battle has been amazing. When Irvine escaped a bases-loaded jam with a double play in the 10th, there was plenty of audible marveling going on in the press box. It's sort of like you can't actually believe your own eyes when Irvine appears to be completely done for and then somehow scrapes through.
Baseball America's Aaron Fitt best summed things up when the Anteaters loaded the bases in the 10th by noting, "This game is nuts!" He's not the best color man in the league for nothing, folks.
Easiest eye chart ever.
You could sense the weird underdog voodoo in the air with that bases-loaded situation, so it almost wasn't a surprise when Ollie Linton singled through the right side on a 2-2 pitch to drive home Morris to give Irvine the 8-7 win and a date with Oregon State.
After the game, the Irvine faithful hadn't left their seats except to move down toward the field and were sharing hugs with the players along the wall. There wasn't a guy more popular than Linton as everyone in Eater Nation celebrated. Coach Serrano's wife, Tracy, was so flabbergasted by the win it was as if she had been up with us in the press box, incredulous at yet another Irvine victory.
Let's hug it out.
She also had to talk her way onto the field after the game since she didn't have a pass. Well, I said, you could have showed them your wedding ring. But she wasn't wearing that, either. So why did security eventually give in and let her on the field with her sons?
"I guess they thought I was a crazy lady and they should just let me go," Tracy said. I told her not to worry, that's how Matt and I usually get past security, too.
As the madness died down on the field, it would soon be time for another flamingo funeral in the parking lot, but not for the bird belonging to the Cinderella-story Anteaters. As we bid farewell to Arizona State and Louisville, here's a little bonus video of a happier time for one of the losing teams: Cardinals pitcher Gavin Logsdon playing the spoons.