Thursday, June 15, 2000 • Attendance: 19,870 • Box score
Edmund Muth snapped out of a slump in record-setting style Thursday to help Stanford secure its spot in the championship game of the College World Series.
Muth punctuated the Cardinal's comeback from an early six-run deficit by hitting three home runs and driving in six runs in a 19-9 victory that eliminated Louisiana-Lafayette before 19,870 at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Muth became only the second player to hit three homers in the game, tying the record set by Florida State's J.D. Drew in 1995. Muth also homered in Stanford's first-round win over the Ragin' Cajuns, tying him with Drew and five others for the most home runs in a single series.
And no player in the 54-year history of event has hit more career homers than Muth, who stands at six and counting heading into Saturday's 1:30 p.m. title game.
"One of the reasons I came back," said Muth, one of Stanford's five senior starters, "was maybe to get my name in the record book."
Saturday, Muth and his teammates will have a chance to become the third team from Stanford to leave Omaha with a national championship. The Cardinal also reigned in 1987 and 1988.
"It means everything to get a chance to play for a national championship," Stanford Coach Mark Marquess said. "That's what it's all about, and everybody puts a lot of time and effort into it. We've come through a lot of adversity, and we've worked very hard for this.
"Guys have come up big, and it's been different guys in different games."
Among those stepping up to join Muth on Stanford's list of heroes Thursday were left fielder Andy Topham and pitcher Mike Wodnicki. Topham's grand-slam homer in the bottom of the second inning helped Stanford wrest some of the momentum from the Ragin' Cajuns, who had jumped out to a 6-0 lead against Cardinal starter Brian Sager and Mike Gosling.
"I was just trying to put a ball in play and get us a run," Topham said. "I got a ball up in the air and it carried out of here. It got us going."
Wodnicki entered the game after Louisiana-Lafayette scored again off Gosling in the third inning to take a 7-5 lead. Wodnicki, a sophomore right-hander who had pitched just 30 innings prior to Thursday, neutralized the Cajuns' attack for the next six innings. He allowed two runs on five hits in a performance that earned him his fourth win of the season.
"The big turning point for us that got us back in the game was Andy's grand slam," Marquess said. "And I'm very proud of Mike Wodnicki, who pitched superbly for us. That's the second time he's done that -- he did it against Alabama in our regional."
But Topham, Wodnicki and the rest of the Cardinal players had to play supporting roles to Muth, who came into the game having had just three hits in his previous 23 at-bats. That slump reached 3 for 25 (.120) after he flied out in his first at-bat and grounded back to the pitcher in his second.
Muth pulled the Cardinal to within 7-6 when he hit his 20th homer with one out in the fifth inning. He picked up another RBI in Stanford's seven-run sixth inning when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Muth crushed a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers to make it 15-8 in the seventh, then punctuated the Cardinal's biggest comeback of the season with another two-run shot in the eighth.
Muth credited Topham's home run with putting a charge into him.
"Andy's homer gave me an incredible lift," Muth said. "I've been struggling relatively all week, and that really pumped me up. I've been struggling the last couple of weeks with some personal problems, and I thank the Lord for helping give me strength.
"But it comes down to I saw a couple of balls and I was able to hit them. That's baseball."
Asked about the personal problems, Muth said, "It's a relationship breakup that's come at a bad time. It's made it kind of tough."
Getting a chance to play for a championship might ease some of Muth's pain. It certainly makes his return to Stanford worthwhile. A 22nd-round draft pick last June, Muth decided to come back for his senior season instead of turning professional.
"If I would have signed, the compensation wouldn't have been great enough," Muth said. "But it wasn't about money. I didn't want to go out on college after great freshman and sophomore years with only hitting six home runs like I did last year. I knew I was five times the player."
He's proved that this season, with Thursday's performance providing the exclamation point.
Said Marquess: "Edmund obviously hit some big boppers there."
Ultimately, Louisiana-Lafayette's season turned on Stanford's seven-run inning in the sixth. The combination of six Cardinal hits, two Cajuns error, a walk, a hit batsman and a sacrifice fly helped Stanford turn a 7-6 deficit into a 13-7 lead.
"We didn't pitch the way we needed to pitch," Louisiana-Lafayette Coach Tony Robichaux said. "We had a collapse in the second inning, and then we had an even bigger one there in the sixth. We just can't play the game that-a-way."
The 49-20 Ragin' Cajuns hadn't given up more than nine runs in a game in a season that ended in Omaha for the first time in school history.
"I told them after the game that they're all champions who just failed to win a championship," Robichaux said.
That opportunity instead belongs to a Stanford team that will take a 50-15 record into Saturday's game.
"If you come here enough, it's going to be your turn," Marquess said. "There's an element of luck to this. You'd like to think you're going to win it, but it doesn't happen that way. But if you keep coming back here enough and you get hot at the right time and you get some breaks, you have a chance to win a national championship."
-- Steven Pivovar