Revived Fields slams the door (cont.)
The message may have resonated. In the post-game press conference, with ice-bags strapped around his shoulder and elbow, Fields said, "Tonight, I just tried not to think."
The process of "just being Joshua," this season, has involved not just a clear head but also the addition of a lethal second pitch -- a knuckle-curve that he had toyed with in high school, but this offseason finally turned into a weapon that's often as much as 14 miles per hour slower than his fastball. He had relied on a slider as a sophomore, when he 15 saves and a 1.80 ERA, but it lost effectiveness in 2007 -- "it made my form a little tight," he said -- and needed to be shelved.
Fields can remember just one hit coming against his curveball all season: an Ole Miss pinch hitter named Jeremy Travis, all the way back on May 4th in Athens. Fields still seems rather stung by the occurrence, too, which is perhaps why he remembers it in such vivid detail: "It was one of the good ones," he said of the pitch to Travis, "and I don't know if he was sitting on it, or if he was swinging that late anyways, but he waited on it and hit it down the first-base line for an [opposite field] double. He just poked his bat right out there."
It has been that kind of year for Fields: so good that he remembers ultimately meaningless hits from more than a month ago -- UGA won that game, 11-4 -- rather than dwells on implosions. Monday's save was the 41st in his career, tying him with ex-Texas and CWS star Huston Street for sixth on the NCAA's all-time Division I list.
Fields' attitude, concurrently, has undergone a sea change, according to his road roommate Trevor Holder, who threw seven innings as Monday's starter. "[Fields] just just having a lot more fun playing the game this year," Holder said. "You can see it on the field -- he has a ton of confidence -- and off the field, because he's up to all his old pranks. He's always scheming something."
Like the plan to put gum on Holder's hat during an earlier CWS game -- and watch the pitcher walk around for about 30 minutes in the dugout during his off-day, oblivious to the deflated bubble on his dome. Or the attempts to scare the entomophobic Holder with bugs, like the giant grasshopper during a game at LSU. Or the latest, during batting practice before Game 1, when Fields used a strip of athletic tape to alter his Georgia hat so it read "Gordons" rather than the standard "G."
"We've changed our name to the Gordons," Fields said, in reference to their junior shortstop, the only Dawgs player taken ahead of Fields in the 2008 draft. Beckham went at No. 8 to the White Sox, and as a candidate for the Silver Spikes award -- he's hitting .404 with 27 home runs -- has become the face of the team. Fields showed the hat to Beckham, who was slightly amused; Beckham said he just wanted a hat that read "national champions."
Both of the Bulldogs' first-rounders delivered on Monday, Beckham with a prodigious blast to right-center to make the game 6-5 and kick-start the Dawgs' rally, and Fields with 12 pitches that took the life out of Fresno State. They're now on the brink of Georgia's first national championship since 1990 -- win on Tuesday night and they'll be wearing the hats Beckham desires.
No one in Omaha will be shocked if that victory comes with help from another clutch hit from Beckham, and with Fields, the redeemed senior returnee, drawing the curtain on Fresno's improbable run through the CWS. "When you put him in a save situation," Perno said of Fields, "he's been money all year."
Now, all Georgia must do is cash in on one more outing.