OMAHA, Neb. – Let’s follow the road that Oregon State’s Bryce Fehmel took to the mound Monday night, where he led the dismantling of LSU and its 17-game winning streak, and pitched the Beavers to the cusp of the championship round of the College World Series.
Warning: Beware the curves.
He was recruited as a talented middle infielder out of California. But then ...
He showed up in Corvallis, found all the infield spots full, and moved to middle relief. And then ...
He hit a couple of potholes. We’re talking canyons. You know those four lonely defeats in Oregon State’s 56-4 record? He started three of them, was the losing pitcher in two. After a particularly rocky start on May 6 against California, when he didn’t get out of the fourth inning, he vanished from sight, as the rest of the staff put up ridiculously impressive numbers. He would pitch one inning the next 34 days. But then ...
To put it frankly, the Beavers needed someone in the rotation in the super regional. Oregon State starting pitchers get to pick the uniform style the team will wear. When Fehmel looked at his phone and saw a text question from pitching coach Nate Yeskie – “Gray pinstripes?” – he realized he would be starting the game that very night against Vanderbilt. ”Hell yeah,” he answered back.
Still, what could really be expected from a guy who had been wobbly, and then in exile for a month? But then ...
That brings us to Monday night. Oregon State in black tops, gray bottoms. Fehmel’s call. His game, too – a rather stunning 13-1 thrashing of the stunned Tigers that included the first CWS grand slam in seven years, and moved the Beavers on in the winners’ bracket. Fehmel’s line: Eight innings, two hits, one run. His ERA for the NCAA Tournament: 1.13. Seven hits allowed in 17 innings.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I guess I’m living a dream with 35 of my best friends.”
How to explain it?
“If I told you that I expected him to do what he has done the last two games, I’d be lying,” Yeskie said. “But I did expect him to throw well. He’s just a steady Eddy. He’s never down on himself, he’s never too high, he’s never caught up in the emotions of the game or the moment. He’s really got a good idle on his motor. I just think that time off gave him maybe a little fuel for his fire.”
“I watched the things he did during his time off. He still worked. He still punched the clock," Yeskie added.
During the hard times, Yeskie said when Fehmel missed with his location, it would be over the middle of the plate. Big trouble. Now it’s off the edges.
“The main thing, it helped me get my mind straight and give my arm a break,” Fehmel said of his sabbatical. “I didn’t come in here as a pitcher only; just pitching two years straight took a toll on my arm.”
All part of an unusual journey that landed him in Omaha, in the spotlight only two weeks after he had been way, way, way in the background.
“I guess it’s a roller coaster. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s part of the game, it’s part of competing. There’s ups and downs.”
They had come to see the showdown. The throngs that lined around the stadium at 9 a.m., waiting for tickets. The tailgaters who were in the parking lot playing cornhole, seven hours before the first pitch. Lots of LSU shirts (“Geaux Tigers”). Fewer from Oregon State (“I see orange people.”).
It was to be an intersection of a 22-game winning streak and a 17-game run. A monumental-sounding moment the third day of the College World Series. Instead, the Tigers lost by a couple of touchdowns. “A heck of a way for a 17-game winning streak to end,” coach Paul Mainieri said.
They had wandered into the long and winding road of Bryce Fehmel, and been run over. Yes, Oregon State is that good.