COLUMBIA - Before Grayson Greiner could grab a bat and walk to the on-deck circle, he knew what was coming.
Max Schrock's two-out, two-RBI home run was the first clue. Greiner watched from the dugout as South Carolina's second baseman rounded the bases two weeks ago against Tennessee, a miracle suddenly possible. The Gamecocks had trailed by three runs entering the ninth inning. Now the deficit was one, but there was more work to do.
Reality returned after Schrock stomped home plate. Next up was Joey Pankake, who tapped a high pop fly to Tennessee right fielder Scott Price. Once again, things looked bleak. The game neared its conclusion as the ball dropped from the sky. Instead, the clinching out popped out of Price's mitt, giving South Carolina new life.
That was Greiner's second clue. Indeed, something special was happening.
"It just felt like everything was falling into place," he said. ". I knew it was going to be up to me to tie the game or win it for us."
Two batters later, Greiner strolled to the plate. Bases were loaded, his team still trailing by one as he dug into the box. The junior catcher wasn't looking for a home run. Just a base hit, maybe a blooper into the outfield.
Greiner swung at the second pitch he saw. It cleared the left-field stands with room to spare.
"If you don't want the bat in your hands in that situation, you probably shouldn't be playing anyways," Greiner said Thursday. "When the game's on the line, and there's runners out there to drive in, I want the bat in my hands. I want to be the hero. Who wouldn't want to be the hero?
"You have to have the attitude that you want to be up there with the game on the line."
Greiner's walk-off grand slam gave South Carolina a shocking victory. Bedlam erupted in the stadium as Greiner headed for home.
These are the wins that are preserved in history books. They are rare, remembered for years to come. Except, inexplicably, this season has been different.
With each passing game, South Carolina is making a habit of walk-off victories. Its spring has been defined by clutch hits and late-inning thrills, one unbelievable drama following the next. The Gamecocks have won four home games with walk-off hits in the past month. Three days after his walk-off grand slam, Greiner hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning against Appalachian State.
It's like watching lightning strike the same spot, over and over and over again.
"There was one or two games, I'll be the first to admit, I didn't think the game was over but something crept in my head, 'I've gotta keep these guys' spirits up. This one looks like a tough one,'" South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. "Lo and behold, they got the tying run up there and found a way to win. We've had some incredible wins so far, when it didn't look like we could pull it out."
No. 5 South Carolina hosts No. 15 Florida this weekend in a battle for first place in the SEC East. Both teams enter the three-game series tied atop the division with a 7-5 record. Holbrook knows how fortunate his team is to be in its current position.
South Carolina could easily be below .500 as the SEC season nears its midway point. The Gamecocks have overcome four multiple-run deficits in conference play.
"I don't think we've had that many crazy games in my first two years as we've had this year," Greiner said. "It's been a pretty crazy first half of the season for us. We believe we're going to win until the last out. If we keep having that attitude, you never know what's going to happen.
"We've definitely pulled some crazy stuff out of our butts at our home stadium this year."
Greiner's walk-off grand slam may be the signature moment for these Cardiac Gamecocks, but he's far from the only player to contribute. Up and down the roster, just about every player has had a big moment in the ninth inning - or later - this spring.
No hero was more unlikely than freshman shortstop Jordan Gore. On the same day Greiner hit the grand slam, Gore provided his own walk-off against Tennessee.
The 6-foot, 160-pound rookie has played in fewer than half of South Carolina's games. He has only three hits in 22 at-bats, but one was a solo home run over the right-field wall in the bottom of the 14th inning against the Vols.
"I hit it as hard as I could, I reckon," Gore said. "It was amazing. It was one of the best feelings I've ever had."
South Carolina's collective effort late in games is no accident. Gore said the magic rubs off on teammates. When one player comes through in the clutch, another is more likely.
Sure, Greiner wishes South Carolina would win games with less suspense. It takes a toll when tensions run high night after night. Yet, he isn't worried about the Gamecocks running out of mojo. All he cares about is winning.
"We'd much rather win it 8-0, 9-0, but whatever you've got to do to get a win," Greiner said. "We don't want to be known as the guys who are losing in the ninth inning and somehow win, but it's happened a few times this year. So I guess some people label us as that.
"We don't pride ourselves on that or anything. It just happens."
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.