OMAHA, Neb. – The rain and lightning wouldn’t go away. The hours crawled by. What were the Oregon State Beavers to do, waiting in their clubhouse to decide their future in the College World Series?
Especially the freshman pitcher who had his team’s fate in his hands. Kevin Abel had come from the bullpen and just gotten out of the fifth inning with his team down 5-4. A loss to Washington would send the Beavers home, shockingly early. The storm looked like it was going to be around a while, so the moment of truth would be, too.
“He looked at me and said, `I’m going back out,” pitching coach Nate Yeskie would say later.
“There wasn’t any doubt in my mind,” Abel said.
The game would not resume for four hours and 31 minutes. That wasn’t a weather delay, it was a flight from New York to Los Angeles. Elimination stared them in the face. You couldn’t tell in the locker room.
They joked. They ate. They rode exercise bikes. Reserve Joe Casey – coach Pat Casey’s son – did the bubble gum challenge, sticking 30 pieces in his mouth. “Looked like a chipmunk. Kept it pretty loose,” Kyle Nobach would later say.
They also played Mafia.
“You got a mafia, you got a sheriff, and then you have a doctor,” Tyler Malone said. “So the mafia choose who they want to kill or take out of town, and the sheriffs try to determine who was in the mafia, and then the doctor tries to save them and then there’s an open discussion. So it gets pretty heated.”
Abel, too. He played along. Never mind that outside in the lightning, Washington had the lead and he would have the urgent burden to stop the Huskies. A freshman. He wouldn’t say if he was the mafia or the sheriff. “He was taking people out,” Nobach said, ratting out his teammate.
“It didn’t look like he was on edge about anything," Yeskie said. “Coming in here, he was laughing, having some fun with his friends, and doing what we asked him to do, which was be himself. As each minute went by, it was better and better for him.”
Or as Abel said, “It was about just being with each other and not thinking about the circumstances, because as Coach Casey says, circumstances are for the weak, and that’s not who we are.”
As the game finally neared, team leader Nick Madrigal had a few things to say about not wanting this CWS to end. “He just talked about there’s a lot of guys in our locker room, it’s win or go home at this point,” Malone said. “There’s some guys in that locker room that will never play a baseball game again."
Now we know how it turned out. Malone, who had sat for 4 ½ hours on the situation of being at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs and his team down a run, came out of the delay patient enough to work a walk to tie the game. The rest of the Beavers’ hitters came out on fire and blew away the Huskies in the seventh and eighth. Abel came out looking like Max Scherzer.
Let’s study his timeline.
He was on the bench, when the game started in sunshine at 1:05 p.m. CT.
He had been called from the bullpen in time of crisis in the fifth inning under darkening skies at 2:45 p.m. or so.
He threw his 17th pitch to AJ Graffanino that was grounded into a double play to end the inning at 2:56.
His next pitch – Willie MacIver flied out to center to start the sixth – was at 7:53 p.m.
His last pitch, strike three to MacIver to end the strike-out-the-side eighth, was at 9:13 p.m. Post-delay, he had retired nine of 10 batters and struck out five of them.
He trotted out of the dugout to join the Beavers’ 14-5 victory handshake line when it finally ended at 9:29 p.m.
“I think it was really good for him,” Yeskie mentioned of the delay. “Young kids get excitable. That allowed him to maybe exhale and get back to being him."
Which apparently includes being in the mafia.