Friday, May 31, 1996
After a 46-minute rain delay, Alabama's Chris Moller got the 50th College World Series off to a thunderous start.
The 6-foot-3, 258-pound first baseman blasted a three-run home run with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning to boost the first- and second- ranked Crimson Tide past Oklahoma State 7-5 in Friday's tournament opener.
When asked if he has had a better moment in sports, the senior from Huntsville, Ala., cracked up the postgame press conference with this remark:
"I can't think of one. I mean, the College World Series, national television — Little League just doesn't compare."
Moller, 1 for 14 in his three previous games, broke out of his mini-slump with a 450-foot home run in the sixth inning and a single in the eighth.
But in the ninth, Alabama (50-17) was in danger of becoming the 16th straight victim of eighth- and 11th- ranked Oklahoma State (45-20), which hadn't lost since May 6.
OSU had taken a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning on second baseman Rusty McNamara's second homer of the game. The two-run shot was McNamara's 19th of the season.
The Cowboys' margin held until one out in the bottom of the ninth when Alabama left fielder David Tidwell homered off Oklahoma State starter Jon Adkins to close the gap to 5-4.
"That hit kind of gets lost in all of this," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said. "But that gave us a big lift."
Crimson Tide second baseman Joe Caruso, the on-deck man at the time, said he got excited.
"After Tidwell's homer, I had no doubt we were going to win the game," Caruso said. "When I went up next, I just wanted to do my job — get on base — and let Dax Norris and Moller drive me in like they have all year."
Caruso did what he said, hitting a double that led Oklahoma State to remove Adkins. After OSU reliever Heath Askew walked Norris, who had doubled in a run in the first inning, Moller got into the batter's box with the tying run at second base, the winning run at first and the 12,000 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium on the edge of their seats.
Moller said he studied Askew's pitching pattern to Norris.
"He threw four or five off-speed pitches, and he started him with a breaking ball," Moller said. "So I was sitting on the curveball, and luckily I got it."
Moller's homer, on the first pitch, was his 13th of the season and boosted his RBI count to 66 in 67 games. He said he wasn't sure which home run he hit harder Friday.
"They both felt pretty good," he said. "Those definitely are two of the hardest balls I've ever hit. But the second one was sweeter."
Alabama hasn't been to the College World Series in 13 years, and it had to wait an extra 46 minutes Friday for the grounds crew to tidy up the field from about six hours of showers.
Wells said the nervousness of being one of the two least-experienced teams in the tournament showed.
"There is nothing like experience," he said. "I felt we weren't the same club we had been the first half of the game.
"We had to deal with a new environment, and you can't prepare for something like this."
Despite the nerves, Alabama was tied 3-3 after six innings thanks in part to Moller's first homer.
In the seventh, Oklahoma State hit its third homer of the game off Crimson Tide starter Andy Bernard, who had allowed just three homers in 65 innings entering the CWS.
Despite the power display, the Cowboys scored less than half of their national-best average of 11.6 runs a game. Bernard was relieved by Tim Young (11-3), who allowed no runs and struck out five in 2 2/3 innings.
"Our pitching was very good," Wells said. "When it could have gotten out of hand, Tim kept them at bay. Andy threw well, too."
Neither Oklahoma State's coaches nor its players seemed concerned about bouncing back after seeing the country's longest current winning streak end at 15.
"There's no magic bullet I can provide to relieve their pain or mine," OSU Coach Gary Ward said. "So we'll digest it, work out tomorrow and begin the rebuilding process."
McNamara said the loss will be magnified because it occurred in the CWS.
"It's tough to come back all the way through the loser's bracket to get to the championship game," he said. "But we understand it's what we've got to do.
"The guy hit a home run to beat us. If he doesn't or we get a double play, we're out of it and we win a great game. That's baseball."
Hit of the Day Alabama's Chris Moller hit a three-run homer with one out in the bottom of the ninth to rally the Crimson Tide to a 7-5 victory over Oklahoma State. It was the second home run of the game for Moller.
— Lee Barfknecht