Saturday, June 8, 1985
Greg Ellena's ninth-inning home run, a game-winner for Miami in the College World Series, came as no surprise to roommate Jon Leake.
"Every time he sleepwalks, he gets one," Leake said, "and he sleepwalked last night."
Ellena's two-run blow over the leftcenter field fence gave Miami a 6-5 victory over Mississippi State before 12,864 in Rosenblatt Stadium. The homer gave the defeat to reliever Bobby Thigpen, who until then was the game's hero by virtue of his grand slam in the sixth.
Ellena, with his third home run of the tournament, balanced the scales for teammates' mistakes.
Ellena's homer ended the season for No. 5 Mississippi State (50-15).
Mississippi State All-America righthander Jeff Brantley, trying to become the seventh collegian ever to win 19 games, took a 5-4 lead into the ninth.
After Brantley walked Leake to open the inning, Mississippi State Coach Ron Polk called Thigpen from right field to relieve. Miami Coach Ron Fraser said he considered having Ellena sacrifice.
Then he told him to hit to right field, because he didn't think the ball could be hit out of the park to left with a 12 mile per hour wind blowing from the north.
Ellena said he had his doubts even after he hit the ball.
"Because of the wind," Ellena said, "I thought the ball would be off the wall. Then I saw the left fielder stop running and the center fielder stop running, and it was time to celebrate."
Second baseman Don Rowland said Ellena's home run "removed a thousand - pound weight from my shoulders." Rowland's error came before Thigpen's grand slam.
And Ellena's homer atoned for what relief pitcher Rick Raether called the "mistake" Thigpen hit out of the park.
In addition to revealing Ellena's nocturnal habits, Leake contributed a sacrifice in the two-run Miami first and a leadoff homer in the fifth.
Ellena talks, too, when he walks in his sleep, Leake said.
"He says, "Pete, did I get 'em?"
"Pete" is Pete Skantzos, his stepfather, who is here from the family's home in Gibsonia, Pa., to watch the tournament.
Ellena, who entered the Miami batting order in midseason, tied the series record for homers in a game with two in the 17-3 trouncing of Stanford in Miami's CWS opener.
"He's my kind of pitcher he throws fastballs," Ellena said of Thigpen. "When he got two strikes, he got one inside."
If Ellena's home run had not pulled out the victory, Rowland said, "the loss would have been mine." Raether was credited with his sixth victory after coming on to relieve senior righthander Alain Patenaude, the starter.
Rowland said he blamed himself was for making a high throw over first baseman Chris Hart's head into the Mississippi State dugout after fielding Dan Van Cleve's grounder in the sixth.
The error let Van Cleve reach second and two subsequent two-out walks brought up Thigpen.
As did Ellena in the ninth, Thigpen greeted a reliever with a home run. The right-handed batter's homer to left field off Raether was his ninth of the year and second grand slam in postseason play.
Rowland's error made three of the four runs scoring on Thigpen's slam unearned.
Miami cashed two unearned runs in the first inning when Calvin James reached base on third baseman John Scott's high throw and Mike Fiore's bunt bounced by Brantley, who was charged with an error.
Leake, a senior third baseman who took a .364 average into the game, sacrificed, and junior catcher Chris Magno grounded a single up the middle to score both runs.
Mississippi State Coach Ron Polk said the errors didn't indicate that the Bulldogs were flat.
"Those were just E-5 and E-1," Polk said, using scorer's language for calling errors on the third baseman and the pitcher, respectively.
"Sometimes they occur at the start of the game, sometimes they occur at the end of the game, and sometimes they occur in the middle of the game. And sometimes they don't occur at all."
Leake made the most of leading off in the fourth, homering off Brantley so far over the 370-foot sign that left fielder Rafael Palmeiro didn't budge after the ball was hit.
That gave Miami a 3-0 lead that stood until the right-handed batting Thigpen homered to left-center.
Mississippi State took a 5-3 lead in the eighth when senior second baseman Gator Thiesen singled, stole second and scored on Palmeiro's line single to left.
Miami rallied within 5-4 in the eighth as Hart tripled off the right field fence and scored on second baseman Thiesen's relay overthrow of third base.
When Leake walked to lead off the ninth, Polk decided Brantley had pitched long enough in a game during which the temperature reached 99 degrees.
"He wanted to stay in," Polk said, "but he was completely drained."
Enter reliever Thigpen. Exit Ellena's home run from the ballpark and the Bulldogs from the College World Series.
Sixth-ranked Miami was the lowestrated club surviving in the tournament.
"Yes," Fraser said, "we think we are a team of destiny."
But there's more to it.
"We don't have the best talent," Fraser said, "but we do have a ballclub that has great chemistry. You get it not only from the nine or 10 who are in the game, but from everybody supporting one another in the dugout."
For the Hurricanes to win two more games and the championship might be a tall order.
"It depends on their starting pitching," Polk said.