Just before he got off the bus on Monday afternoon at TD Ameritrade Park, Michael Roth pulled out his phone and tweeted a message to his 19,000 followers:
One. Last. Time.
The South Carolina senior, who epitomizes the term “crafty lefty,” will go down as one of the greatest arms the College World Series has ever seen. He's thrown more innings and made more starts than anyone in CWS history.
Monday night, it wasn't enough.
Roth was the starter the night South Carolina's championship dynasty was born, two years ago at Rosenblatt Stadium. He was the starter the night it ended.
In the top of the seventh inning, the Gamecocks trailed 1-0 when Arizona moved a runner to third base with two outs. Roth, approaching 90 pitches on three days' rest, was fried.
“One of the hardest things I've ever had to do in coaching was take the ball from him,” South Carolina pitching coach Jerry Meyers said.
Roth stood there, waiting for Matt Price to jog in from the bullpen.
He put the ball in Price's glove, patted his teammate on the shoulder and jogged off an Omaha mound after 60 13 innings pitched at the CWS. As he approached the dugout, Roth slowed down to soak in a standing ovation.
He finished his career 8-0 in the postseason. In the CWS, he was 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA.
But for all his success, Roth has never taken the sport too seriously.
“This is a baseball game,” Roth said. “It's not life.”
In May, he graduated with a double major in international business and marketing. His GPA: 3.8.
Last June, he skipped the national championship parade back home in order to catch a plane to Spain, where he studied for five weeks.
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On Saturday, he admitted that he didn't know much about Arizona because he isn't really a fan of baseball. He has considered graduate school instead of pro ball, even though he was a ninth-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels.
Roth may not be a lifer, but his success was directly responsible for South Carolina's remarkable run.
Exactly two years ago Monday night, the pitcher from Greer, S.C., made his first start of the 2010 season. In a CWS elimination game. Against archrival Clemson. Pressure doesn't get any thicker.
Roth went the distance, holding the Tigers to one run and three hits.
Four days later, in his second start of the season, Roth pitched the first five innings of the championship-clinching game.
The Gamecocks won in extra innings, 2-1, the last CWS game at Rosenblatt Stadium.
“In the first opening ceremonies for the College World Series (in 2010), they tell you it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Roth said. “And I was out here blowing meal money like it was nothing. I'm like: probably never going to come back.”
In 2011, Roth returned to Omaha, but not before developing into the best pitcher in college baseball. His fastball is lucky to hit 85. But he dropped down to sidearm against lefties and knew how to miss the barrel of the bat when it mattered.
He finished the season with a 1.06 ERA. For the second straight year, he started the CWS clincher. He went 7.2 innings and beat Florida.
He added to his legend last Thursday, retiring the last 22 Kent State batters in an elimination game. It was the first two-hitter in 19 years at the CWS.
Then Monday. One. Last. Time.
For a man who's been around forever, the night went too fast. South Carolina and Arizona were swinging the bats like they had a plane to catch. By sundown, it was already the seventh inning.
When Meyers came to take the ball from him, Coach didn't say a word. He was fighting back tears. As (clothed) streakers interrupted the seventh-inning stretch, Roth sat in the dugout, alone with his thoughts.
The past three College World Series, Omaha became like a second home to South Carolina.
Many of the best times, Roth said, weren't even at the ballpark. They were bus rides after wins. Goofing around at the hotel. Spending money at the casinos. Eating at the Drover.
This town has “the best food,” Roth said.
In the ninth, Arizona took a 4-1 lead. South Carolina couldn't mount a rally.
Confetti rained down on TD Ameritrade as Roth hugged teammates one by one. He carried the second-place trophy back to the dugout. He watched the Wildcats celebrate.
Roth learned Monday night what it feels like to lose in Omaha. But he's been on the other side, too. He knows the word to describe his experience.
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