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Tuesday, June 11
Greatest College World Series moments

By Alan Schwarz
Special to

Perhaps you've pilgrimaged to Cooperstown. Maybe you've driven to spring training, even made a 30-stop tour of every major-league ballpark. But if you haven't gone to Omaha for the College World Series, there's a gap in your baseball experience no other event can fill.

The nine-day festival, whose 2002 revival begins on Friday, is as pure and pastoral as baseball gets. Eight teams from all over the nation, not to mention busloads upon busloads of their fans, converge on Rosenblatt Stadium as it ripens into the field of their dreams. (Many, actually, drive an extra five hours to visit the real Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.) So many legends have played on that same diamond hoping for the same championship. Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Before they hit the big time, Omaha is the biggest time there is. "No one can support the World Series like Omaha can here in the Midwest," said longtime Miami coach Ron Fraser, who reached the CWS eight times and won two titles from 1963-92. "Baseball's not made for the big city." Travel to Omaha at least once if you can. But since you can't travel back in time, here's a tour of the top five moments you've already missed:

1996: Morris the bat
No one remembers who said it. But when Warren Morris walked to the plate in Omaha on June 8, 1996, someone remarked in his Louisiana State dugout, "Warren hasn't hit a home run all season."

Moments later, Morris hit the most famous home run in college baseball history -- one that topped anything Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter did for sheer unlikelihood and drama.

LSU was losing in the championship game against Miami, 8-7. Bottom of the ninth. Two outs, man on third. Morris coming to the plate didn't exactly blow the Hurricanes away -- the second baseman was hitting ninth and stood only about 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, had been bothered by wrist problems all season, and hadn't gone deep all year. Miami prepared to celebrate.

But on the first pitch from Hurricanes closer Robbie Morrison, before anyone had a chance to anticipate the impossible, the impossible happened. Morris lined a curveball toward the right-field fence. It barely cleared the wall. All of a sudden, the championship was LSU's.

Morris screamed as he rounded the bases; a picture of him doing so, with Miami third baseman Pat Burrell in the background lying face down in the grass, ran nationwide. In no other World Series -- college or major league -- has anyone ever hit a two-out, walk-off home run in the deciding game to turn defeat to victory.

Said Morris after the ensuing delirium, "I hadn't hit a home run in so long, I didn't know what one looked like." Ever since, though, when you think of the most clutch home run ever, it looks like Warren Morris.

1973: Winfield winds up
Seeing 6-foot-6 Dave Winfield wagging his bat in the batter's box as a major leaguer was scary enough to send him to Cooperstown. But Big Dave first made a name for himself uncoiling his monstrous frame from the mound -- and his best performances came in Omaha.

"When Dave let go of the ball, it was three feet in front of your face and it seemed like it was going 110 miles an hour," said Rich Dauer, the longtime Orioles second baseman who faced Winfield that year as a Southern Cal infielder. "In my whole career, even facing the big boys in the majors, I have never seen anything like (him)."

Neither had Omaha, before or since. The star of the 1973 Minnesota Golden Gophers, Winfield whiffed 14 batters in a six-hit, 1-0 shutout of Oklahoma in his team's CWS opener. His turn came up next in the semifinals against Dauer's USC Trojans -- college baseball's reigning powerhouse, with three straight CWS championships. Winfield blew through them. After eight innings, he had struck out 15 and allowed just an infield single as Minnesota built a 7-0 lead.

But then it unravelled. In the ninth Winfield finally tired and moved to left field, thinking that his 7-4 lead would still hold up. It didn't. After two more runs scored Winfield was asked if he could pitch again, but he was too spent. The Trojans scored two more runs, won 8-7, and sent Minnesota home.

I ran into Winfield years ago and -- cautiously -- asked him about that game. He broke out into his trademark grin. "I have played in a lot of memorable big games during my career," he said. "World Series games, league championship games, All-Star Games, all kinds. But I will never forget that game against USC. Never."

1987: Ventura passes DiMaggio
Nothing focused national attention on Omaha in the '80s more than when Robin Ventura, an overlooked high school player two years before, carried a 56-game hitting streak into the College World Series. So what if it was only college baseball? Tied with the great DiMaggio, 56 games is 56 games.

Ventura got to 57 in the opener against Arizona State, and added another in the next game against LSU. Next up was Stanford and its ace, Jack McDowell. The two teams were the last unbeaten clubs in the double-elimination tournament, adding to the suspense.

Oklahoma State won the game 6-2, but McDowell retired Ventura four times, on three flyballs and a lineout to third. A ninth-inning, two-out single by Ray Ortiz got Ventura one last chance, against Stanford's Al Osuna. Ventura grounded sharply to second base, where Frank Carey bobbled the ball twice and then threw wildly, sending Ventura to second. The official scorer ruled it a two-base error, though some thought Ventura could have been given a single.

When the inning ended, so did the streak. But the Ventura-McDowell connection sure didn't. Days later the two wound up meeting in the CWS final, where Ventura went his more customary 4-for-5 but McDowell won, 9-5, to give Stanford the championship. And the two later were reunited for several years with the Chicago White Sox and became good friends.

Yet to college baseball fans, Ventura and McDowell will always be linked by that amazing 58-game hitting streak -- the record still stands -- and its dramatic end.

"We talked about it a handful of times," McDowell later said, "but it took us a while before we really sat down and discussed it. It wasn't so much that I helped snap Robin's hitting streak, but that we won the College World Series and he didn't."

1965: Hurlin' Arlin
You might remember Steve Arlin as a major-league pitcher from 1969-74, when he compiled a 34-67 record, mostly with the Padres. But CWS fans remember him as perhaps the greatest pitcher in the event's history. Arlin led Ohio State to Omaha in both 1965 and '66, but it was his first trip that saw his finest moment. Making his third start in four days, he faced Washington State in an elimination game. He shut out the Cougars for nine innings but his club didn't score, either. So he stayed on the mound, kept throwing up zeroes, through the 14th.

Ohio State scored once in the top of the 15th and Arlin went out there again. He struck out the side, the last his 20th of the game -- still a CWS record. "I just never thought I was going to lose," Arlin later said.

He rarely did. Arlin returned to Omaha the next year and took the Buckeyes to the championship by pitching in - hold on to your rotator cuffs -- five of their six games, twice defeating top-ranked USC.

1982: Don't believe your eyes
Hidden-ball trick, huh? What the Miami Hurricanes pulled off in the 1982 CWS make tales of any other on-field hijinks disappear.

Miami was facing Wichita State with a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning. Shockers speedster Phil Stephenson was on first base. Pitcher Mike Kasprzak stepped off the rubber and fired a pickoff throw -- or so it seemed.

First baseman Steve Lusby lunged over Stephenson, while second baseman Mitch Seaone and right fielder Mickey Williams scampered frantically down the right-field line into the bullpen, where two Miami relievers -- and a even few Hurricanes ballgirls -- jumped out of the way.

But there was no ball to elude.

When Stephenson took off for second, he was a dead duck. The ball still in his glove, Kasprzak threw calmly to shortstop Billy Wrona, who tagged out Stephenson to kill the rally. The Hurricanes went on to win the game, 4-3 -- as well as the championship days later.

The perfectly orchestrated ruse -- known since as "The Grand Illusion" -- instantly became college baseball's most famous play, a precursor to the wild Stanford-Cal kickoff return five months later. Perhaps it would be called a balk today because the ballgirls were conspirators. Call it what you want, but call The Grand Illusion a classic.

Honorable mention: One Darling performance
Finally, no discussion of college baseball postseason moments would be complete without mention of one of the most famous games of all time -- the regionals matchup between Yale and St. John's in 1981, when Ron Darling and Frank Viola faced off in a Harvey Haddix-like duel for the ages.

Viola threw zeroes for St. John's through 11 innings, but Yale's Darling did even better -- he allowed no hits entering the 12th. He had let only two balls out of the infield and struck out 13. But just like Haddix for the Pittsburgh Pirates 22 years earlier, Darling's impeccable performance wound up in heartbreaking defeat.

Darling lost his no-hitter in the top of the 12th when St. John's speedster Steve Scafa blooped a single to left and immediately stole second. Darling struck out the next hitter and watched as a miscue by shortstop Bob Brooke (the future NHL player) left runners at first and second. Scafa stole third. Darling struck out the next hitter, putting him one out away from keeping the game alive.

But the runner on first broke for second, setting off a delayed double steal. Scafa stole home to finally break the deadlock and give St. John's a 1-0 lead. Darling ended the inning with his 16th strikeout and left the field to hearty applause -- even from Viola, who then yielded to a reliever who quickly retired Yale in the 12th for the win.

Viola and Darling met up later as teammates with the Mets, but will stand together forever by their incredible 11 innings of tandem shutout ball, Darling's with no hits. Former Yale coach Smokey Joe Wood, a former 34-game winner in the big leagues who beat Christy Mathewson in the deciding game of the 1912 World Series, later said, "I never saw a better game played anywhere."

Alan Schwarz is the Senior Writer of Baseball America magazine and a regular contributor to

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