Updated: June 24, 2009 at 12:00 am
OMAHA, Neb. • No matter what happens tonight in winner-take-all Game 3 of the College World Series’ championship series, Texas pitcher Austin Wood’s place in Longhorns lore is secure.
Texas might not have been able to even the best-of-three series at 1-1 with a 5-1 victory Tuesday without Wood’s performance earlier in the playoffs.
On May 30, Texas and Boston College met in the NCAA Regionals and played the longest game in NCAA history. The Longhorns won, 3-2, in a 25-inning classic that was marked by Wood’s courageous performance.
Wood entered the game in the seventh with one out and a man on second and carried the Longhorns into the 20th inning. He threw 169 pitches in 13 innings and struck out 14 batters. During his first 121/3 innings he did not give up a hit.
When he left the game, Wood received a standing ovation — including from Boston College players. Texas coach Augie Garrido called Wood’s performance the best by an individual pitcher in his 41 years of coaching.
But along with the kudos came criticism.
Wood’s coach, Augie Garrido, was called out via e-mail and in print — St. Petersburg Times columnist Tom Jones, for instance, wrote, “Shame on you” — for endangering Wood’s future. Wood, selected in the fifth round (pick No. 150) of this month’s draft by the Detroit Tigers, pitched two innings the day before his marathon outing.
“I’ve been telling everybody, my arm was fine throughout the game, I’m not going to put myself in any jeopardy,” Wood said prior to the championship series. “I’m a senior, this is my last go-round, I was trying to get to the world series at that point, and I felt like I could still do my job to the fullest.”
After the eighth inning, when Wood was around 100 pitches, Garrido discussed with pitching coach Skip Johnson whether they should remove the reliever.
“He walked by and said, ‘Don’t you even think about taking me out of this game,’” Garrido said Sunday. “When a player breaks through to that level, it changes his life. He’s now shown the courage that we want in all of our players. He showed the respect for the game, he showed confidence in himself and he did it. And now he knows something not many people know — you really can be anything you choose to be. You just have to have the confidence to take what belongs to you. That game belonged to him.”
Garrido said Wood put the fate of his team in front of himself well before the game against Boston College. After starting for two seasons, he filled a void by moving into the closer role.
“It would have been better off and safer for him to sign a professional contract if he was a starter,” Garrido said. “He had that choice.”
And Wood made it clear Sunday it was his choice to stay in against B.C.
“I felt like I could still do my job to the fullest, and that’s why he let me go and that’s why I told him I would go,” Wood said.
And that’s why he’ll always be mentioned when Texas fans discuss Longhorn baseball greats.
“If he was in the military, he would have received the Congressional Medal of Honor, man,” Garrido said. “And if he gets a sore arm in the next 10 years, it’ll be my fault.”