OMAHA, Neb. –– When it was over Saturday in the sauna of Omaha, and North Carolina had held off Oregon State 8-6 in the longest nine-inning game ever played in the College World Series, Tar Heels coach Mike Fox came up with the appropriate summation.
“I think we all feel like we’ve been in a heavyweight fight. We probably have.”So much was crammed in the first game of the tournament. Time. Adversity. Twenty-four hits and 23 men left on base. And for North Carolina – especially it’s catcher – heartbreak that had everything to do with loss and nothing to do with a baseball game.
Diary of a steamy, crazy and very long day in Omaha. Or why Oregon State got a lousy break being assigned the home dugout Saturday.
2:06 p.m . . .
The temperature is 93 degrees when Oregon State’s Luke Heimlich throws the first pitch to North Carolina’s Kyle Datres, with a fiery breeze blowing in at 19 miles an hour. It feels like the Mojave, and a female Tar Heels fan is wearing a t-shirt with a fitting message for such a windy, wilting day: “Messy hair, don’t care.” By the way, the Beavers have their first of three errors at 2:06 and 10 seconds, Datres hitting the first pitch for a grounder to short that gets bobbled.
“The other team’s out there just as long as you are,” Datres would say later of the weather ordeal. “You just have to stay focused. We just stayed with it and knew that we weren’t the only guys out there that were struggling with the heat.”
The Tar Heels had tried to be ready for the steam bath. “We had some really good people taking care of us this morning with IVs, and making sure that we were very well hydrated,” catcher Brandon Martorano said.
The Beavers, too. “North Carolina had to endure the same circumstances we did, and we talked about that prior to the game,” coach Pat Casey mentioned. “We talk about those things all the time. If you let those things bother you, then they can be a problem."
3:45 p.m. . . .
What a bizarre way to open the tournament. Wild pitches, passed balls, errors, hit batters, a would-be double turning into a single when the umpire can’t get out of the way of a hot grounder, 10 runs, 14 hits, mass pitching changes, wind-blown beach balls bouncing from the stands onto the outfield warning track.
Wait a minute. We’re not even out of the third inning yet.North Carolina starter Gianluca Dalatri didn’t even survive the first. He complained after getting two outs that he had no life in an arm that had been injured earlier this season. Fox walked to the mound, asked a couple of questions, and gave the quick hook. “He said he just didn’t feel right. That’s really all he needed to say, quite honestly.”
4:30 p.m. . . .
The once-full outfield sections are nearly empty, the fans baked into submission. Same for the third-base-side grandstands. Full house on the first base side, though. That’s where the shade is. In the dugouts are cooling fans and wet towels for the players coming in from playing defense.
“You just want to get off the field as fast as you can and get back in the dugout,” Datres said, “Not when you’re hitting.”
5 p.m. . . .
Want to know the difference between Oregon State and North Carolina at this point? Besides the 7-4 score? The Tar Heels' dugout is on the first base side. The thermometer reads 92 degrees. Not exactly Alaska, but wait. Over in the Beavers’ dugout on the third base side, solar heating is at work. The thermometer there reads 110.
“Eighteen degrees hotter? That’s insane,” North Carolina pitcher Cooper Criswell said later.
“We’ll take that all day,” Datres said.
“I’m sure that plays a factor,” Martorano agreed. “The heat is no joke. When you get two great teams out there competing, you look for every single little separator that you can.”
5:23 p.m . . .
Game 1 of the College World Series is 3 hours and 17 minutes old . . . and they’re having the seventh inning stretch. Oregon State’s pitchers gave up eight runs as the Beavers went 5-0 in the Regional and Super Regional. The Tar Heels have that many in seven innings.
“We weren’t the better team on the field, that’s for sure,” Casey said later. “They were.”
5:47 p.m. . . .
Oregon State might be char-broiled, but the Beavers are not quitting. They cut the lead to 8-6 and leave the bases loaded. The game has officially become only the second CWS game in the eight-year history of TD Ameritrade Park where both teams scored at least six runs.
6:01 p.m. . . .
Game 2 is supposed to start in an hour, but they’re still in the top of the eighth inning. Outside the ballpark, the Mississippi State and Washington fans are all dressed up with no place to go. The Washington folks have waited 71 years for the Huskies to play in this thing. A couple more hours shouldn’t matter.
6:06 p.m. . . .
Cadyn Grenier opens the Oregon State eighth with a walk but is picked off by Martorano, who has been wearing catcher’s gear for most of four hours. Fox later called it the biggest play of the game. “I think the humidity down in Carolina has gotten me prepared for this,” Martorano said.
6:30 p.m. . . .
Criswell, who began the day charting pitches since he expected to start Monday for North Carolina, had been rushed into the game in relief, since all mound plans went bloody with Dalatri’s early exit. It took a quick change in focus on his part, but he pitched like the coolest guy in town, allowing one hit with seven strikeouts in the final 2.1 innings. “It is the College World Series,” he said afterward, “so your focus can change pretty quick.”
He gets on a bounce-back to the mound to end it after 4 hours and 24 minutes, officially the longest nine-inning CWS game in history.
“It definitely felt like it,” Martorano said.
“Four and a half hours is too long to be on the field,” Casey said. “(But) the biggest fact in the game was we didn’t play the game like we can play. And it’s the game of baseball, you gotta play it better than the way we played it today if you want to beat good teams like Carolina.”
7:10 p.m . . .
Not until the last moment of his post-game press conference does Fox give out the news, in a shaky voice. Former Tar Heel Zach Attianese and his father had been killed in an auto accident in Michigan Friday night. They were on their way to a funeral. Hard to get sadder than that.
“That was kind of our pregame meal this morning, me having to tell our team,” Fox says. “So life is fleeting. And it was tough news for us to hear.”
Especially the catcher who stared down four hours of heat to play so well. Attianese was one of Martorano’s best friends from childhood. “I just want to give a shoutout to Brandon Martorano,” Fox says. “It was mighty hard for him to go out there.
Martorano had discussed his game at length afterward and never mentioned a word about it. Still processing, probably. He had been asked about the game by people who had no idea how hard it really was for him.