“The story of the game is Chad.”
I’m not one to argue with coaches, especially Mississippi State’s John Cohen when he’s in the middle of the College World Series.
“Some clutch at-bats there in the 8th,” Cohen conceded, “but Chad just battling, and battling and battling.”
The Bulldogs entered the game riding high, but not without pressure, knowing a win would ensure them a three-day break in the winner’s bracket and that someone would have to beat them twice to keep the Dawgs out of the World Series Championship.
State came out perhaps a little amped up, Cohen said after the game, and had moments where the outlook wasn’t promising.
Two in particular seemed to offer some hope, once when Girodo escaped a jam in the fifth with runners at both second and third.
The next came when Wes Rea knocked in a score to make it a one-run game in the sixth.
With two outs and the bases loaded in that same inning, Trey Porter stepped to the plate, visions of glory running through his mind and everyone else around him, with the Bulldogs down one and a potential lead on the other end of this at-bat.
With Burke Masters sitting 50 feet away, the grand-slam hero of MSU’s 1990 Starkville Regional, the full-circle poetry of a shot over the wall would’ve been Shakespearean.
The pitch came, Porter unloaded and the ball flew into the air. Fast. And high.
But fate preferred cruel irony than historic prose, as Porter’s ball sailed and sailed over the expansive outfield, only to fall short at the warning track, with the inning over and Indiana’s lead preserved.
Just as MSU won Friday against Oregon State, it seemed perhaps they had lost in the same fashion on Monday.
“We were kind of down,” Porter admitted afterward.
Fast-forward to the bottom of the seventh, and Girodo cements his status as “the story of the game.”
I watched from the side of the dugout as he retired three of the four batters, and despite some earlier shakiness, looked like the postseason MVP he’s been for MSU.
His final strikeout was as impressive as just about any by a Bulldog pitcher. When that last slider crossed the plate, ending the inning as the batter could do nothing but look, MSU’s dugout erupted.
Why? They were still down, after all. But something about how impressive Girodo was, how he kept dealing, continued making batters look silly, got the Bulldogs as excited as I had seen them all day.
Fist-bumps, high-fives and even hugs. Kendall Graveman ran to the front of the dugout carrying the team’s talisman, the sledgehammer from fall practice.
In that moment, through that pitch, something changed.
“It was kind of like a switch turned as soon as he struck the guy out,” Porter said.
“I saw that,” Cohen agreed.
Sports in general, and particularly baseball, allow for those involved and watching to feel the intangible and see the invisible.
“That’s a momentum shift,” sophomore closer Jonathan Holder said. “Those are huge. When it goes to the other team, you can tell. When it comes to us, you can tell. We got it there.”
Life had returned to the Bulldogs.
“We’re usually playing from behind, so it’s not anything we’re not used to,” Porter said.
“When you got a guy putting up goose eggs for you,” Rea said, “there finally comes a time, emotionally, mentally, physically, that you say, ‘Alright, we need to make something happen for this guy. He’s dealing. We score two runs, we’re gonna win the ball game.’
That they did, and then some. Brett Pirtle started it off with a single. Rea followed up with one of his own, sending Pirtle to third. Demarcus Henderson arrived at the plate and sent one into the outfield, tying the game at 3-apiece.
At this point IU finally had to change pitchers. When the new arm came to the mound, Porter returned to the plate.
“We were hoping Coach would keep going with him,” Holder said.
Again, the Bulldogs had two outs and the winning runs on base for Porter.
Again, the pitch came and Porter’s bat swung over the plate, cracking with the hit of the ball.
But this time, the ball fell into green grass in right center field. As Porter sprinted to first, two of his teammates crossed the plate, giving the Bulldogs a lead they would never relinquish.
Porter returned to the dugout a hero after the final out was made, greeted with hugs, back-slaps, cheers and a sledgehammer. MSU knew what had just happened. They knew they won.
And it all started with Girodo’s pitch.
“You can’t let the guy go out there and do what he was doing and just sit back trailing one run,” Porter said.
Now, the Bulldogs are one win away from playing for the National Championship, and three away from winning it, should fate be so kind.
“That was unreal,” Holder said, echoing the thoughts of State fans around the country. “It was cool.”