It was the finest moment in college baseball history. On the final pitch of the final game of the season, a premed student on a full academic scholarship hit his first home run of the year, a two-out, two-run shot that gave LSU a 9-8 win over Miami for the championship of the College World Series.
The hero of this duel between perennial national powers was LSU's number 9 hitter, junior second baseman Warren Morris, who missed 39 games this year with a fractured hamate bone in his right wrist. A week before the championship game he could barely swing a bat. Yet on a beautiful day at sold-out (23,905) Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, he hit a first-pitch line drive into the first row of seats just inside the right-field foul pole off Robbie Morrison, Miami's All-America reliever. It was the first college title game since 1968 to end on a hit in the bottom of the ninth, and the first ever to end on a home run.
"I just tried to think of it as an intrasquad game," Morris said afterward, "and I had to get the runner in from third. I just hit it on the good part of the bat, and emotion took care of the rest of it. As I was running, I felt like it was happening to someone else."
No, this should have happened only to Morris. He hurt his wrist in October but played through the pain until it became so intense that he had to have surgery in April. He wasn't supposed to play again this season, and Tigers coach Skip Bert-man called the injury to Morris, the team's most inspirational player, "the saddest thing that's ever happened to LSU baseball." Remarkably, Morris was playing again 29 days after the surgery, in time for the regional tournament. The Tigers went 4-0 in the regional and 4-0 in the College World Series, making them 22-0 this season in games that Morris started (they were 30-15 when he didn't start).
Bertman will coach the 1996 U.S. Olympic baseball team in Atlanta, and Morris will most likely be his starting second baseman. After the Games, Morris, who was selected by the Rangers in the fifth round of the draft last week, says he "will give pro ball a try." When he's done with that, he says, he'll go on to attend medical school. Maybe then he'll be able to explain how a player with a major injury could come back so quickly and do what he did.
Morris's homer capped a thrilling finale in which the Tigers came back from a 7-3 deficit after six innings to win their third national championship, all in this decade. Eight teams go to Omaha for the double-elimination tournament, but expectations are always so high at LSU that Tigers left-fielder Chad Cooley said two days before the championship game, "Any other team that gets here can go 0-2 and get a parade when they get home. We have to win it all, or there's no parade. We know that when we sign on."
The expectations are equally high for the Hurricanes, who were also gunning for their third national title, and their first under Jim Morris, who took over the program in November '93 and still must labor in the shadow of legendary Miami coach Ron Fraser. This was a devastating defeat for the Hurricanes, who after blowing that 7-3 advantage still took an 8-7 lead into the ninth, thanks to a two-out RBI single by shortstop Alex Cora, the brother of Seattle Mariners second baseman Joey Cora. But when Morris's liner landed in the seats, Cora and some of his teammates fell to the ground, crying in disbelief.
"This is the greatest championship I've ever been a part of, and that includes [the '88 Olympics in] Korea," said Bertman, who was the pitching coach on the U.S. team that won in Seoul. "To win it that way, that was something you fantasize about."
The Bagwell Train
It has been 59 years since the National League last had a Triple Crown winner, Cardinals outfielder Ducky Medwick, who hit .374 with 31 homers and 154 RBIs in 1937. That streak will probably reach 60 this year, but at least in Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell there's an early-season Triple Crown candidate. At week's end he led the league in RBIs with 63, was fourth in homers with 19 (the Expos' Henry Rodriguez led with 21) and was 10th in hitting with a .338 average ( Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza led at .358). Bagwell was swinging as well as he was in the strike-shortened '94 season, when he turned in one of the greatest hitting performances in recent memory, batting .368 with 39 homers and 116 RBIs in only 110 games. "When he gets locked in," says Houston second baseman Craig Biggio, "he gets locked in for a season. Then you jump on the train and go for a ride."