Saturday, June 8, 1996
Louisiana State's Warren Morris gave the 50th College World Series an ending Saturday afternoon that will be remembered for the next 50.
Morris' two-out, two-run homer on the game's final pitch propelled the sixth-seeded Tigers to a 9-8 victory over fifth-seeded Miami before an all-time record crowd of 23,905 at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The first homer of the season for LSU's 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior second baseman marked the first time a CWS championship was decided on a home run on the last pitch.
"This is a storybook ending!" shouted teammate Brad Wilson, who crossed the plate moments before Morris fought his way through a pack of delirious Tigers. "A storybook ending!"
The story gets even better. Morris, a preseason All-American, missed 39 games and underwent surgery April 24 to remove a broken hamate bone from his right hand. He didn't start swinging a bat until May 20, the Monday before LSU began play in the NCAA tournament.
"He went into our first game at regionals not having taken batting practice," LSU Coach Skip Bertman said. "We didn't let him take batting practice in Omaha because we wanted to save him.
"Still, when he went up there, I didn't think he'd hit a home run but I knew he'd get a good cut."
Morris rifled a curveball from Miami All-America reliever Robbie Morrison three rows into the right-field bleachers, about 10 feet inside the foul pole. The hit scored Wilson, who had led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a groundout. Morrison came back to strike out Tim Lanier on a 3-2 pitch, setting the stage for Morris' last-pitch heroics.
"I wasn't coming up to the plate trying to be a hero or anything," said Morris, moments after his teammates had hoisted him on their shoulders. "I just wanted to get Brad in, and then hopefully someone would have gotten me in.
"I hadn't hit a home run in so long, I couldn't even remember what it looked like to see a ball go over the fence. He hung a curveball and I hit it, and I think all those guys on the bench blew it out of here. Truthfully, I thought it was going to hit the warning track or the fence."
Instead, the ball screamed into the bleachers to punctuate LSU's final comeback in a 52-15 season. The Tigers had trailed 2-0, 7-3 and 8-7, the latter deficit produced by Alex Cora's two-out single in the top of the ninth inning.
Cora, the only Miami starter hitting under .300, also tripled in two runs and had a double. His ninth-inning single scored T.R. Marcinczyk and put Miami on the verge of claiming its first national title since 1985.
"There is not a tougher way to lose than that right there," said Miami Coach Jim Morris, whose club finished 50-14. "We're one pitch away from winning a national championship.
"We thought we had it won. We had a first-team All-American on the mound and two outs. We thought we were going to win all along."
Instead, the Tigers gave Bertman his third title in six years and made him one of only six coaches who have won at least three championships. LSU defeated Wichita State 6-3 to claim the 1991 title, then shut out the Shockers 8-0 in 1993.
Those efforts, Bertman said, pale in comparison to the achievements of his 1996 Tigers.
"Personally, this is the greatest championship that I've ever been associated with, including the gold medal in Korea in 1988 and the national titles at Miami and LSU," Bertman said. "This team is special. We have some tremendous talent, but to win it is a special thing.
"We were picked No. 1 to start the season. The pressure has been huge, and they handled that. The injuries, they handled that. I didn't always make the right moves. They handled that, too. Ultimately, the leadership of our senior players was what won it for us."
The seniors were around in 1993, when the Tigers won it all. So was Warren Morris, who redshirted that season.
"I have a ring from that season," he said, "but I've never felt like I earned it."
In wiping out memories of his injury-plagued season, Morris helped ease some of his teammates' pain.
"We've been dreaming about this for three years," said Morris, who in addition to his homer singled, doubled and scored four runs. "Last year was a heartbreak when we didn't win our regional at home. Two years ago, we went two games and out here. We just wanted to come back and show what we could do.
"We weren't as wide-eyed this year, we didn't look at this as if it were Disney World or anything. We considered it a business trip, and we took care of business. We never gave up, even when we were behind."
Miami had the Tigers down from the start, scoring a pair of first-inning runs on Michael DeCelle's single. LSU came back to score three times off Hurricane starter J.D. Arteaga in the third, with Mike Koerner and Eddy Furniss driving in runs with singles and Nathan Dunn hitting a sacrifice fly.
DeCelle's sacrifice fly and Cora's two-run triple in the fifth put Miami ahead 5-3. LSU's Chad Cooley appeared to make a diving catch of Cora's drive to left field but lost control of the ball after hitting the ground. Umpire Kevin Gillmore ruled no catch in spite of protests by Cooley and the LSU coaching staff.
"I'm not one to argue," Cooley said. "I caught the ball, and as I was coming up to show the ump, it trickled out. I heard through the grapevine that he said you have to take your other hand and pull it out of your glove. How many great catches have you seen where the guy lays out, makes the catch and then holds the ball up in the glove?"
Bertman told his team to ignore the call.
"That's part of the game," he said.
The Tigers fell behind by four runs in the sixth when they mishandled bunts by Jim Gargiulo, Ryan Grimmett and Rudy Gomez to load the bases. Pat Burrell, the tournament's outstanding player, launched a towering fly to left-center field that the wind, blowing in from left field at 13 mph, kept in the park.
"That ball is out of here on a normal day," Bertman said.
Eddie Rivero followed Burrell's sacrifice fly with one of his own, driving LSU starter Kevin Shipp from the game. Patrick Coogan relieved, and held the Hurricanes scoreless until the ninth.
The Tigers cut the Miami lead to 7-5 in the seventh with a pair of two-out, unearned runs. LSU then tied the game off Morrison in the eighth, with Koerner delivering a sacrifice fly and Dunn an RBI single.
Morrison, 4-1 with a 1.11 ERA coming into the game, gave up five hits and four runs in failing to complete what would have been his 15th save of the season.
"Robbie Morrison was the guy who got us here," Miami's Morris said. "He had a tremendous season, and he was one pitch from winning. He was the guy I wanted in there with the game on the line, and that's the way it's been."
Wilson, hitless in his previous 15 plate appearances, started the LSU ninth with a shot down the left-field line for his double. Justin Bowles followed with a screaming one-hopper that Marcinczyk, the Miami first baseman, turned into the first out.
Wilson moved to third on the play but Lanier, a hero in LSU's first two wins, couldn't advance him when he went down swinging. Up came Morris, prompting Wilson to turn to Mike Bianco, the Tigers' third-base coach.
"I told him, 'This guy is Mr. Clutch,' " Wilson said. "He's the man we need up there. I can't think of anybody else I'd rather have in the box than him."
Moments later, everyone knew why. Morris was barely halfway down the first-base line by the time the ball settled into the bleachers.
"It still seems like it happened to someone else," Morris said. "I don't remember what happened after I touched first base until I touched home. The only reason I remember touching home is that I had to fight off about 25 guys.
"Like I said, I wasn't trying to hit a home run, I wasn't trying to be a hero. Maybe the gods of baseball were with us today."