|ESPN.com: NCAA||[Print without images]|
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It took a crisis for Florida State to find one of college baseball's best closers this season.
On March 13, the Seminoles, then ranked third in the country, blew an 8-3 lead against No. 1 Virginia at Dick Howser Stadium. FSU coach Mike Martin rolled out four pitchers to try to close the ninth inning, but none of them could finish the job in a deflating 9-8 loss.
|Florida State opted to use Mike McGee as a closer early in the season. It's safe to say the decision has paid off for the Seminoles.|
Later that night, Martin and his coaching staff made a decision that would change their team's fortunes this season. Pitching coach Jamey Shouppe recommended using starting left fielder Mike McGee as a closer, and Martin agreed it was the right move.
"The rest is history," Martin said.
McGee's right arm and bat might help the Seminoles make history in the last College World Series played at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb. FSU, which is making its 20th CWS appearance, opens play against TCU on Saturday. The Horned Frogs are playing in their first CWS.
"It's so exciting to know we're going to be a part of the last one played at Rosenblatt Stadium," Martin said. "Every time we go it's a special feeling. There's just no other place to play the final eight. There's no other place to be."
McGee, a junior from Port St. Lucie, Fla., had pitched in Florida State's starting rotation as a freshman and sophomore. He was recruited to FSU to play shortstop and pitch but eventually settled in as a starting outfielder.
Martin said he was willing to try McGee in the ninth because he had used former All-American catcher Buster Posey as a closer in the past. If Posey could get loose after taking off catcher's gear, Martin was confident that McGee wouldn't have any problems making the transition from the outfield.
"As much as anything, Mike's uniqueness is that he really didn't care," Martin said. "When we put him in the closer's role, he said, 'I love to close.' He had done it before. He likes the fact he can determine the outcome of a game. He wants the ball in his hand at the end of a game."
Chances are the Seminoles wouldn't be in Omaha if Martin hadn't converted McGee to his team's closer more than three months ago.
Junior Andrew Durden opened the season as the team's closer but pitched sparingly after McGee took over the job. Martin said Durden recently quit the team because of "nothing more than inactivity and lack of performance."
McGee made sure Durden wasn't getting the job back. McGee has a 4-0 record with 12 saves and a 1.37 ERA in 18 appearances. He has allowed only 11 hits with 33 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings, and opponents are hitting only .125 against him. McGee's 12 saves are third-most in a season in FSU history.
"I just really enjoy being able to get the last out in a game," McGee said. "I like feeling like I have that much of an impact. If I start in left field, I might get one ball hit to me a game. I feel like I'm more in control when I'm on the mound."
McGee, who has started 64 of 65 games in the outfield, has done plenty of damage with his bat, too. He's hitting .328 and leads the Seminoles with 15 homers and 68 RBIs.
"He's had a lot of clutch hits for us," Martin said. "He's just a guy who loves to be challenged."
Perhaps none of McGee's hits this season was bigger than his walk-off homer in the ninth inning of FSU's 9-8 victory over Vanderbilt in the opening game of the Tallahassee Super Regional this past weekend. The Commodores came back to beat FSU 6-2 in Game 2 before the Seminoles won 7-6 on Sunday to earn a trip to Omaha. McGee pitched the final 2 1/3 innings in the winner-take-all game against Vanderbilt.
McGee mostly throws two pitches -- a fastball that tops out at 92 mph and a slider. He occasionally throws a changeup to left-handed hitters.
"It feels like two completely different games to me," McGee said. "I think I might be a little more relaxed when I get on the mound. The first eight innings, I feel a little more tense. When I'm on the mound, I feel like I have more control over the outcome."
On an FSU team that lacks the kind of star power the Seminoles have enjoyed in the past (Posey, Marshall McDougall or J.D. Drew), McGee is undoubtedly its most important player. He was named first-team All-America as a utility player by Baseball America earlier this week and is one of 10 semifinalists for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award.
"We don't have that one guy who is a superstar hitting .400 with 25 homers," McGee said. "We just have a bunch of guys who love to play baseball. Every win we've gotten this season was a team effort. It's nice to be on a team like that because you know you can rely on every player."
But the Seminoles rely on McGee more than everyone else.
"It's been an unusual turn of events," Martin said.
Two-way players have left their mark at the College World Series in the past. In 1973, Minnesota's Dave Winfield threw a six-hitter with 14 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory over Oklahoma in his team's opening game. He pitched eight innings with 14 strikeouts in an 8-7 loss to eventual national champion Southern California. He hit .467 with one homer in four games and was named Most Outstanding Player of the CWS.
In 1992, Texas' Brooks Kieschnick hit .400 with two homers and five RBIs in four games. The next year, he threw 172 pitches in a 6-5 victory over Oklahoma State. In the 1995 championship game, Cal State Fullerton's Mark Kotsay hit two homers and pitched the final 1 2/3 innings in an 11-5 win over USC.
"It's very, very cool," McGee said. "To be there two years ago was exciting, but to be a part of the last one at Rosenblatt is very, very special."
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.