OMAHA—A starter knocked out with two outs in the fourth, a four-run deficit, an ace on the other side filling up the strike zone, the nerves that come with the first game of the College World Series—all of that, together, is not a winning formula. Not usually. Most teams would fold under the weight of all those factors stacked on top of them.
But Oregon State is not most teams.
The Beavers don’t abide by any sort of formula. “Losing” is not a word in their vernacular. They wake up in the morning, and they brush their teeth like champions.
So, here’s a sentence that’s now been typed 55 times in 2017: Oregon State won.
The Beavers opened the 2017 College World Series on Saturday afternoon with their 22nd straight win—the longest-active winning streak in the country. Pat Casey’s club beat Cal State Fullerton in come-from-behind fashion, winning 6-5, after trailing 5-1 in the fifth. The Beavers improved to an eye-popping 55-4 on the year.
At no point did they expect any other ending.
“I’d just say that, even though we’re down, we’ve been down before in the season, and just the thought of losing, it just never comes in our head,” DH Trevor Larnach said. “We like to battle. Coach Casey instilled that attitude in us, just battle and never give in, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Added freshman lefthander Jake Mulholland: “I don’t really think it was a matter of if. I think it was a matter of when.”
With Friday starter Luke Heimlich removing himself from the team after an Oregonian newspaper report surfaced, just before super regionals, of a sex crime he committed as a teenager, the Beavers needed a new formula. So they turned to No. 2 starter Jake Thompson, a junior righthander who ranked second in the country during the regular season in ERA—only behind Heimlich.
However, Thompson—who entered 14-0, 1.52 on the year—didn’t look like his undefeated self. He walked leadoff man Scott Hurst in a lengthy battle to start the game. After a sacrifice bunt, Thompson plunked first baseman Dillon Persinger. A batter later, senior shortstop Timmy Richards drilled a three-run home run over the left-field fence. Just like that, the No. 1-seeded team in the field fell behind, 3-0.
For the Titans, ace righthander Connor Seabold looked similarly rusty early, but he limited the damage. He worked through five innings, allowing just one run on six hits, despite throwing a laborious 97 pitches.
When he exited the game, Cal State Fullerton head coach Rick Vanderhook decided to hand the reins to righthander Colton Eastman—the team’s best starting pitcher. Vanderhook said after the game that he didn’t want to go down in two games without using his top arm—a move that made a great deal of sense on paper. But in actuality, it gave the Beavers new life.
Eastman simply wasn’t his sharpest. He walked four, threw 42 pitches and recorded just two outs. With the bases loaded, Eastman threw two straight balls to Larnach before Vanderhook decided to pull him and go to righthander Blake Workman.
Larnach drilled a single up the middle to drive in two. Right fielder Jack Anderson followed up with an RBI single to center as well. The Beavers tied the game at 5-5. Fullerton’s strategy backfired.
“That was a good game. They’re really good. And I’m stupid,” Vanderhook said. “I outthought myself . . . They whooped our (expletive).”
For Oregon State, that offensive surge would’ve meant little if the Beavers hadn’t found some stability on the mound. Mulholland provided it. He threw 4.1 hitless frames, walking just one and facing the minimum, thanks to an outstanding diving catch by catcher Adley Rutschman on a bunt attempt and the ensuing throw to first for a double play.
Rutschman would provide an equally clutch play at the plate, driving in the go-ahead run in a single up the middle in the bottom of the eighth.
From there, much like Fullerton, Oregon State turned to its best remaining starting pitcher—righthander Drew Rasmussen—to close out the contest. Compared to Mulholland’s mid-80s velocity, Rasmussen pumped 94-96 mph fastballs by the Titans and struck the first two batters he faced in a perfect ninth inning.
“Mully was really good,” Casey said. “He just carved, goes in, out, soft, firm. And then he’s a really—a contrast to the velocity of Jake—Jake Thompson, and I imagine that Drew looked like he was throwing 200 (mph) when he got in the game after Mully’s stuff.”
It wasn’t a conventional win for the Beavers by any means, but then again, nothing’s conventional about having 55 of them.
“Four losses,” Rasmussen said. “That’s pretty good.”
What has had these Beavers so confident all year? What has driven them to victory 93 percent of the time?
“I think it comes from the guy on the far end here,” Anderson says, laughing, and gesturing toward Casey at the dais.
Casey jokes that Anderson is just trying to get into the next day’s starting lineup. For the longtime head coach, who has two national championships to his name, winning is as simple as being yourself—and believing in yourself.
“I know Billy Rowe made fun of me in this documentary,” Casey said, laughing. “He was our first baseman in ’06 who hit the big home run, he said, ‘Coach used to say you got to brush your teeth like a champion. You’ve got to drive your car like a champion, you’ve got to study like a champion.’
“He goes, ‘It really kinda worked.’ I don’t know, just be who you are. That’s all I can do.”
It’s the only winning formula Oregon State needs.