Mike Martin’s career is going to end in Omaha, Neb. at the College World Series.
It’s too perfect to seem real.
It was also incredibly implausible just two weeks ago. So much so, that I wrote my goodbye to ‘11’ before the Athens regional began, because I figured that was where his career would end.
Florida State hadn’t shown signs they had the ability to string together the type of games required of winning a regional — and certainly not a Super Regional — on the road.
Yet it was once they no longer had anything to lose, that the Seminoles found their stride. Emboldened by future Lockheed Martin softball ringer Tim Becker, FSU won three straight in Athens, including two dominating wins over Georgia, which was the No. 4 National Seed.
Becker hit the first three homers of his career and FSU hit 10 home runs overall on the weekend to advance to a Super Regional series with LSU in Baton Rouge, La. Just making it to the Supers would have been enough.
Even if FSU lost, at least the team had ensured that Martin wouldn’t go out with a whimper. That was true even in the series opener as the Tigers no-hit FSU for 5 1/3 innings. Yet with their newfound confidence, the ’Noles never flinched.
They battled back from down four runs. The biggest blow came when Reese Albert bullied LSU reliever Trent Vietmeier into throwing him an inside fastball. It was the 11th pitch of the at-bat and Albert hit off of the roof of LSU weight room outside the stadium on right field. He celebrated with the most nonchalant bat flip of all time.
Then that Becker guy delivered a go-ahead RBI in the 8th, Albert added an insurance run with another homer in the 9th and J.C. Flowers recorded a six-out save to give FSU a 6-4 win and Martin a 40th consecutive 40-win season.
Sunday night it was FSU that watched an early evaporate as LSU’s raucous crowd flexed its muscle. Once again though FSU was undaunted. For some reason Drew Mendoza was pitched to in the 12th inning and he delivered a walk-off RBI-single to send FSU to its 23rd College World Series with a 5-4 victory.
Mendoza delivered the winning blow, but he wasn’t the only Seminole to cement his place in program folklore in Game 2. Becker furthered his reputation with an opposite-field RBI double in the fourth inning. It was FSU’s lone extra-base hit of the night. Freshman catcher Matheu Nelson can’t hear you bro — but he did pick off a runner at third base in to stem a critical LSU rally in the sixth.
Starter C.J. Van Eyk was solid in 7 1/3 with five strikeouts and giving up four earned runs on eight hits. Reliever Antonio Velez likes to point to the ice in his veins after a big inning. Well he had the chance a few times Sunday. He earned the win with a 4 2/3 innings of relief, in which he gave up just four hits and struck out six on 64 pitches.
It is the 17th trip for the Seminoles with Martin at the helm, and no doubt his most improbable. Martin also played in a College World Series for FSU (1965), something he shares in common with every member of his coaching staff (Mike Martin Jr., 1994 CWS; Clyde Keller, 1989 CWS; Tyler Holt, 2010 CWS).
There are plenty of Illuminati-type facts that could signal this Disney story continuing in Omaha. Like the fact that if FSU wins six more games it will have an 11-game winning streak and the first national championship in program history. Or there’s the fact that FSU opened the regular season with an 11-0 win and closed the ACC Tournament by the same score.
One more for good measure, the last three teams to eliminate LSU from the NCAA Tournament have gone on to win the College World Series.
While those numbers and stats are fun to think about, the thing about sports is they truly are unscripted.
That’s why they’re the best. It’s why Seminoles all over the country got misty-eyed after FSU somehow pulled out the win on Sunday night and Martin looked for his wife Carol in the stands so they could celebrate another trip to Omaha.
Sure a title doesn’t seem likely, but neither did a trip to the College World Series in the first place and here we are.
(Photo: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press)