OMAHA, Neb. — What comes after legend?
South Carolina’s Michael Roth might be there following a complete game two-hitter against Kent State to keep alive the Gamecocks’ hopes of a third national championship in a row.
It was a performance that would’ve been lauded even if the senior had never before pitched in the state of Nebraska. Roth received four days of rest following South Carolina’s CWS opener against Florida, and it wasn’t a matter of if Roth would take the mound Thursday, it was just a matter of when.
“Coach [Tanner] came to me and asked if I was 100 percent,” Roth said. “I said yes, and he said you’re getting the ball. I was looking forward to it.”
“He’s our best guy,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “He got an extra day’s rest because of the rain, and you go. He’s going to give us a chance. If we would have been down 4 2 or whatever it might have been in the sixth or seventh inning, he’s still going to give you a chance to win. That’s how you have to approach it. The only question I had was not if he’s going to pitch, if he’s 100 percent, and that’s the only thing I asked him. He said I’m 100 percent, and I said that’s good enough for me. Let’s try to get back in this thing.”
Of all the games Roth has started on the national stage — seven in Omaha — Thursday’s may have been the most critical one. It was the first elimination game the Gamecocks had played in almost two years, since June 26, 2010, against Clemson to get to the CWS Championship Series against UCLA.
Roth pitched in that game too. Also a complete game. Two of the three complete games in his career have come in elimination games at the College World Series. No wonder why Tanner threw him in Thursday’s first game.
All the lefthander did was retire the final 22 Kent State batters — something not done since at least 1994 at the CWS. The only two hits Roth did allow were both in Kent State’s one-run second inning. It was the first complete game thrown while allowing two hits or less at the College World Series since June 6, 1993, when Long Beach State’s Mike Fontana threw a two-hitter against Kansas.
The best part about Roth’s outing? Saving the South Carolina bullpen. Exactly what the Gamecocks needed when hoping to play three games in two days.
“[Roth's] had a lot a lot of good ones,” Tanner said. “But this was probably the most critical game that he’s pitched for us because he was good, and he gave us nine innings, which gave our bullpen a chance. You can’t go into a game against Arkansas as good as their pitchers are with not feeling like you have a pretty good staff ready to go, and he gave us a chance today.”
Roth’s seven career starts at the CWS tied Miami’s J.D. Arteaga for the most all-time, while his nine appearances put him at sixth on the all-time list.
But Wednesday’s may have been the most special in a place where Roth has redefined the phrase ‘CWS Legend.’
The way Roth has done it may surprise some. Roth doesn’t hit 90 on the radar gun with his fastball. On a good day, he’ll touch 89. But it’s his varying arm slots that make it seem a lot faster. He can throw any of his pitches from any slot – all for strikes.
“I really just went out and pounded the strike zone,” Roth said. “I was able to hit the strike zone with pretty much every pitch I threw. That helped me a lot. I didn’t have any walks [Thursday], which when there are base runners and you can stay on that roll, I haven’t really been able to get into this season much. So, it was nice to be able to throw everything for strikes.”
Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin was impressed in the other dugout.
“To me, that’s why college baseball is so special, a guy like Michael Roth, and I think coach Tanner said the same thing: three years ago, he was on the back side of the bullpen, and now he’s a superstar,” Stricklin said. “He is the biggest superstar our game has. He throws 85-miles an hour. He just knows how to pitch. He does everything the right way. I’ve got a ton of respect for him. I’ve enjoyed watching him on TV, but I did not enjoy watching him [Thursday].”
While in the process of striking out eight, Roth set the record for most career innings pitched at the CWS with 53.2 innings, passing Steve Arlin of Ohio State (1965-66) and Greg Swindell of Texas (1984-85) who each held the record with 47.0 innings.
The records and accolades don’t stop there.
Roth moved to 9-1 in 2012 but 4-0 in his career in Omaha — which is tied for the most wins in a CWS career, but is the only pitcher to do so in three separate seasons.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t have a role on this Gamecocks team when his career began, and wasn’t even on the pitching staff.
In a game that took only 2 hours, 7 minutes to complete, Roth made things look easy on a gorgeous first full day of summer in Omaha. He mowed down a Golden Flashes lineup on 106 pitches — 70 for strikes — which featured five batters that hit better than .300 in the shortest CWS game since June 14, 2003, when Rice and Missouri State finished in 2 hours, 2 minutes.
There’s something about Roth and this Gamecocks team that makes almost everyone in Omaha think it won’t be the last time we see No. 29 in a College World Series game.
Now, it’s up to his teammates to make sure he gets that chance.