The inclement weather meant that No. 1 Stanford, which stood a win away from a West I Regional championship on this date 20 years ago, had a decision to make.
San Diego State gladly shuffled its rotation once rain postponed the scheduled Sunday matinee at Sunken Diamond. The Aztecs however soon had a threatening flip side to consider. The Cardinal could either start freshman Brian Sackinsky on Monday as previously scheduled, or turn to their second option, though he had just started Friday afternoon.
“When we got out here this morning, (pitching coach) Tom Dunton said, ‘Mike wants the ball.' He was real emphatic,” Stanford head coach Mark Marquess said after the game.
The skipper elaborated: “If a guy wants it that bad, give it to him.”
Mike, as in Mike Mussina, as the likely Cooperstown inductee, bore no resemblance to a pitcher working on two days rest. A red letter day in every sense – a record 4,765 fans crammed into Sunken Diamond under clear skies – concluded with a 6-2 Cardinal win. The rubber-armed righty, making his final home appearance before being drafted and signing with the Orioles that summer, scattered three hits in his school-record 14th win of the season. With their ace’s complete game, Stanford’s fourth College World Series trip in six years was at hand.
During Saturday's off day that followed his Friday win over Middle Tennessee State, the determined hurler confided to coaches he was willing to start Sunday if need be. Making good on his demands, he recorded all 27 outs against the WAC champs. The Cardinal wore their road grays in a game where they were the designated visiting team. Teammates mobbed Mussina on the mound once the final out – a comebacker -- went into the scorebooks.
“Somebody up there must be looking out for me,” said Mussina, pointing skyward and acknowledging the weekend’s serendipity. “It was like somebody said, "if you want to pitch that bad, OK.' And the rain started.”
Mussina threw 113 pitches, 79 of which were strikes. He scattered three hits (two singles and a double). The Aztecs hit all of four balls out of the infield through the first six innings, a span where he allowed only one hit.
Place this club among the all-time best editions in the 30-plus years of Marquess coaching Stanford baseball. The Cardinal roared to a 34-7 start, hit .321 as a team in the regular season and featured future Major Leaguers all over the roster. Stanford dominated the regionals, going 4-0 and continuing the regular season momentum.
A trio of East Coast tough guys led the way. Mussina, of Pennsylvania stock, was the Pac-10’s best pitcher. A starter for the back-to-back national title teams of 1987-1988, outfielder Paul Carey finished his four-year career (cuh-RE-ah in his native New England accent) as one of the program's all-time greats.
Jeffrey Hammonds slugged and sprinted his way to becoming national freshman of the year. Turning down a $250,000 signing bonus from the Blue Jays, the New Jersey product stole a school record 44 bases and hit safely 38 straight games while playing the outfield.
Don’t forget Brian Johnson in the outfield and first baseman David McCarty, respective high round picks of the Yankees and Twins who logged significant Major League time. Guns blazing, Stanford roared into Omaha with a 56-10 record and expecting nothing else but a third national crown since 1987.
“When ’87 and ’90 are playing at their best, ’90 wins,” said Carey after the College World Series.
So who whatever became of that national title banner? As history shows, 1990 catered more to the underdog: Buster Douglas, Georgia Tech football, the Cincinnati Reds, Jeff Hostetler and Sinead O’Connor. Stanford was among the final four teams stannding in Omaha, but went no further.
The regionals gave way to a loaded College World Series, which featured Oklahoma State (56-10), LSU (52-17) and a solid Georgia (48-18) squad.
One member of that group singlehandedly dealt Stanford a premature end to its season. The Bulldogs beat Mussina twice on their way to becoming the first SEC champion to claim a College World Series crown. For Cardinal fans, Memorial Day’s consolation prize would have to suffice.
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