OMAHA, Neb. — He doesn’t think about the finality. No, Michael Roth spends little time reflecting on the remarkable things that have happened to him, and that he has done, since he first became a fixture at the College World Series and a face of the University of South Carolina.
It started two years ago today. It will end tonight.
Roth, a senior left-handed pitcher, is USC’s likely starter for tonight’s College World Series best-of-three finals Game 2 against Arizona, at 8. USC coach Ray Tanner had yet to officially announce Roth as the starter before Sunday’s Game 1, but if Roth does get the call tonight rather than Tuesday for a potential Game 3, it will be the 44th start of his career — and his last.
The Gamecocks lost to Arizona 5-1 on Sunday and will try to stay alive tonight as they attempt to become just the second team to ever win three straight national championships.
Roth knows this is it for him, but why dwell on that when there are more pressing matters at hand? He was assured of getting a final start when USC beat Arkansas on Friday — the Gamecocks’ third win in two days — to make the World Series finals. When he returned to the team hotel, he and his best friend, senior right fielder Adam Matthews, did not reminisce about the highlights of USC’s back-to-back titles, and push for a third. At least not immediately.
“My first comment to Adam (was), ‘Do you want to order room service?’” Roth said. “We’ve been getting these sandwiches the past four days that have been absolutely just gnawing at our brains, and we’re sick of pizza too. So we ordered room service.”
Roth is aware of the weighty situation in which he finds himself, but not consumed by it.
Part of that is because he has been in this spotlight for so long, ever since June 25, 2010, when he made the first significant start of his career and threw a complete game three-hitter, leading the Gamecocks to a win over their biggest rival, Clemson, in the College World Series. Three nights later, he started the championship-clinching win over UCLA, as he did last year against Florida.
Part of it is just his personality — equal parts perceptive, goofy and witty. After Friday’s win, Roth approached Tanner and said, “Can you believe we’re in a position to defend our title with these knucklehead freshmen we have?” At Saturday’s press conference to preview the championship series, Roth jokingly deadpanned that Matthews had been “getting death threats on Twitter” because of his recent struggles at the plate. This, from a serious student who graduated with an international business degree and a 3.8 grade-point average.
Roth is comfortable at the World Series, where he has started seven games, tied for a record, and thrown 532/3 innings in his career — 62/3 more than anybody else. His career earned-run average here is 1.34, which ranks sixth all-time among players with at least 30 innings pitched. His career record in Omaha is 4-0, and if he wins his next start, he will match teammate Matt Price for most career wins at the College World Series.
“In the first opening ceremonies for the College World Series (in 2010), they tell you it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Roth said. “And I was out here blowing meal money like it was nothing. I’m like: probably never going to come back.”
But he did, twice, after helping USC in 2010 win its first national championship in one of the three major sports (football, basketball and baseball). Things moved so fast for him over the next two years that he barely had time to look back. He said the only time he thought about finality was before his last start at home, on June 2 against Clemson in the NCAA tournament Regional.
His start against Oklahoma in the Super Regional could’ve been his last time. The same goes for his two starts in this World Series, against Florida and Kent State. He made sure they weren’t. USC won all four games, as Roth allowed 21 hits and seven earned runs in 291/3 innings, including a complete game, two-hit, one-run jewel in his last game, Thursday against Kent State.
That performance conjured memories of his complete game against Clemson, which instantly made him a star and launched one of the more impressive runs in college baseball history. Almost certainly tonight, two years later, after hundreds of pitches and memories, it ends.