Shatel: USC-Minnesota is still one of the greatest games in CWS history 50 years later

BleedGopher

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Per Shatel:

Maybe it was all that chirping.

No team heckled the USC baseball team. Few had the chance. The Trojans usually won.
But on this night, the Minnesota Gophers tempted fate.

Maybe Dave Winfield, dominating the Trojans with 15 strikeouts through eight innings, finally ran out of gas at 140 pitches. There was enough left to start an unforgettable fire.

And maybe it was the short and simple pep talk USC coach Rod Dedeaux gave his team before the bottom of the ninth.

“Let’s give them a finish, tigers.”

Boy, did they ever.

Down 7-0, USC scored eight runs — with one out — to beat the Gophers 8-7 and advance to the College World Series championship game against Arizona State.

It’s been 50 years ago this month. Remember?
Folks who attended that evening game on June 12, 1973, were taking a break from watching the Watergate hearings on network TV during the day. On their radios, it’s likely the songs “Frankenstein” or “Long Train Runnin’" were playing.

Meanwhile, local fans were three months from watching first-year Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne make his debut against UCLA. Big Eight vs. Pac-8.

But on a Tuesday night at the CWS, folks were thinking baseball. And they anticipated an intriguing match-up, with Minnesota’s versatile star Winfield taking on the great USC dynasty, with Fred Lynn, Rich Dauer and Roy Smalley.

They had no idea of the history they were about to witness.

Lynn, who lives in Carlsbad, Calif., still gets asked about it. And he’ll never forget it.

“That was my third trip to Omaha,” Lynn said. “We won the first two times. We had some guys who could hit.

“But we had never run into anybody like Dave Winfield. Stanford had great pitchers, but you always felt like you could hit them. Dave was overpowering. He had some sort of off-speed breaking ball, a change-up that kept us off-balance.”
Dauer once said, “When Dave let go of the ball, it was three feet in front of your face and it seemed like it was going 110 miles an hour.”
Winfield had struck out 14 in the Gophers’ first CWS game, a win over Oklahoma. After losing to ASU in game two, Minnesota had a 7-0 lead in the ninth. Things looked good.

Maybe too good.
“They were all over us,” Lynn said. “Back then, bench-jockeying was like a sport. We were pretty good at it but we never rode teams when we got way ahead of them.

“But those guys were on us unmercifully. I can’t repeat some of the stuff they said. They thought they had it in the bag, right?”
That’s when Dedeaux offered his one-line pep talk. And the Trojans went to work on Winfield.

USC opened with back-to-back singles on Winfield, who had thrown 140 pitches. Minnesota thought it then had a double-play but the first base umpire called the runner safe. Gophers coach Dick Siebert was thrown out arguing the call.

Still, Minnesota was up 7-0 with one out.
Then it started. Lynn “smoked a ball down the line that the first baseman had no chance to catch. They ruled it an error but it was really a double.”


That was all for Winfield.
“They took him out and put him in left field,” Lynn said. “I can’t remember who they brought in, but it was like gasoline on the fire.
“We got on base. And got on base. Moved runners around. Played small ball. It was the most incredible finish I’ve ever been involved in.”
Lynn said the crowd at Rosenblatt had been cheering for Minnesota to pull the upset. But during the furious comeback, many switched.
“We were like the Yankees,” Lynn said. “We always won. So there were people who wanted to see us lose, too, because we weren’t losing.


“But as we came back, they started getting into it.”
Lynn said he was told by friends back in Los Angeles that when the comeback win was announced at Dodger Stadium that night, the Trojans got a standing ovation from the Dodger crowd.

“We were a fighting team,” Lynn said. “Yeah, we were used to winning. But when our backs were against the wall, we were really good. We just found ways to win. We played winning baseball. We never beat ourselves. We had some really good players, too.”
Lynn said the team had a quiet celebration afterward at one of Coach Dedeaux’s favorite spots.
“There was a place called Big Fred’s,” Lynn said. “The bus took us there. He (Fred) was real close with our coach. So we celebrated there. But not too much. We had to get up and play again the next day.”

USC beat Arizona State for the second time in that CWS for the title. But the lasting memory of that CWS was what happened the night before.

USC is holding an event in October to recognize the game. Members of the 1973 USC team will be on hand. Winfield is flying in for it.

Lynn said he and Winfield crossed paths several times during their major-league careers. But Lynn never faced him again.
Winfield, a superb athlete and physical presence, was selected in the MLB, NFL and NBA drafts and chose baseball. San Diego drafted him fourth overall in 1973 as a pitcher, but moved him to the outfield because of his bat.
“I’d see him from time to time,” Lynn said. We’d run into each other, all-star games, things like that. I never brought (1973 CWS) it up. If he had started getting high and mighty, I might have (laughs) but I never did.

“He’s coming to SC later this year to discuss the game because it’s the 50th anniversary. That will be interesting. He’s great for doing it.”
That game still carries enormous historic weight, but Lynn said, “It would have been bigger if it had been on TV. If that happened today, on ESPN, it would have been monumental.”


Go Gophers!!
 





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